Nitrates on the rise in Rock County water

Health department says 30% of results are elevated
Nitrates on the rise in Rock County water

The Rock County Health Department said nitrate levels have been steadily rising in the county, and it’s a concern for everyone.

“Nitrates show up high in basically all parts of Rock County,” said Rick Wietersen, the environmental health director for the county health department.

He said drinking water with nitrates is not good for anyone long-term, but it’s especially harmful to pregnant women and babies.

“The main health concern with nitrates is something called blue baby syndrome, which can cause a lack of oxygen in the bloodstream of infants,” Wietersen said. “During pregnancy, it can cause some health defects.”

He said nitrates can occur naturally in groundwater from decaying plant material, but are usually less than one part per million. The main contributor to elevated nitrate levels is fertilizer people use in their lawns or fields.

“About 30 percent of the tests that we run are over the advisory level of 10 parts per million in Rock County,” Wietersen said.

He said Rock County has roughly 15,000 wells, but only 800 to 1,000 are tested each year.

“We recommend that homeowners test their wells on an annual basis for nitrates and for bacteria,” he said.

If a private well is found to have an unsafe level of nitrates, the health department recommends installing water-treatment systems or digging a deeper well.

Wietersen said the health department has tracked nitrate levels for more than 20 years. He said there are about 90 indicator wells they test every year.

“That’s where we get the best trend indication that nitrates have been increasing in Rock County,” Wietersen said.

In an effort to combat the problem, Wietersen said the county has established a Nitrate Work Group to identify potential solutions to reduce the elevated levels.

“We’ve evaluated a lot of data, and we’re currently in the process of trying to identify two or three areas in the county where we can do some, what we call, best management demonstration practices for fertilizer use,” he said.

Wietersen said people could pick up $25 test kits at the Janesville and Beloit health departments. He said it usually takes two to three days for the results to be available.