One of the potentially largest water testing programs in the state is being held in Door County, thanks to Healthy Water Door County, a new fund launched by the Door County Community Foundation (DCCF).
Bret Bicoy, president and CEO of DCCF and a member of the Board of Advisers of Healthy Water Door County, said there was no single event that triggered the fund, other than “recognition by a number of community leaders that Door County is particularly vulnerable because of its unique geography to a terrible water event.”
That, coupled with the county’s dependence on tourism dollars that could come to a screeching halt by a catastrophic water event, “began a desire to create something to call attention just to healthy water,” Bicoy said. “There are lots of efforts out there concerned about the lake and the bay, and efforts to preserve property and land and deal with environmental issues in a large and comprehensive way. Those are all very important. Healthy water, however, is dealing specifically with just water and water quality issues.”
The first act of Healthy Water Door County was to award a grant to the Environmental Research and Innovation Center at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh to distribute free water-testing kits throughout the county on two weekends this month.
“The professionals there framed the project and do the work. Our job is to make investments in those people who are the experts in doing great things for our community,” Bicoy said. “These are the same folks who have been testing our beaches for years. They came to us with some ideas. We said, ‘You’re not thinking big enough, think bigger.’ We asked them to think more broadly. Let’s do something countywide that takes a snapshot. The value of this, you’re going to get samples from all across the county in what would basically be a 10- or 11-day window of time. That doesn’t happen very often.”
“We’ve done a lot of well monitoring as part of different DNR programs – churches, bars and restaurants. We’ve done several hundred of those, but for a single community, this will be the largest we’ve ever done,” said Caitlin Koller, research scientist at the Environmental Research and Innovation Center. “I think it will be a real opportunity because Door County has probably the most wells in the state. We’re not sure how this is going to go, if there will be lot of interest. We hope so.”
Funding from Healthy Water Door County paid for 450 water test kits, each with a value of $45. Koller said the testing will be for arsenic, bacteria and nitrates, although information will be available at the pick-up sites on other testing the center can do at a cost.
“People are welcome to pay for the test kit if they want to donate back to the program,” Koller said.
She said the center also sees this as an opportunity for outreach and education, so will have team members at each of the pick-up/drop-off sites in case community members have questions.
Results from the test will take about five to seven business days, Koller said.
“If we get a high result or a positive result for bacteria, we do contact the homeowners immediately, so no news is good news,” she said. “We want to let the community know if there is a problem right away.”
Bicoy pointed out that the testing is not about individual wells, but rather a picture of the entire county.
“No information will be reported that your well was good or your well was bad. It will never be made public. It will never be shared with anybody,” he said. “But what we want to know collectively, if we take Baileys Harbor for example, what do we see as trends in that geographic area? How many wells are OK and how many are problematic? The hope is that if we do this several times over several years, we can compare these snapshots. You begin to learn things and look for patterns. For us, the first benefit to us is residents themselves. We want to empower residents to know their water is safe.”
In addition to Bicoy, the Healthy Water Door County Board of Advisers includes Ed Douglass, Dick Egan, Coggin Heeringa, Chris Olson and Peter Sigmann.