Madison Water Utility’s Science Denial


We simply disagree with the need for the proposed mega-expansion of Well 7. We oppose the expansion of Well 7.
First & foremost we know, thanks to Colonel Christopher Gellasch’s research for his Geology Ph.D., that the mere fact of pumping vast quantities of groundwater in sudden, powerful bursts and then storing it in massive reservoirs on the surface is:
  • Warping the bedrock below
  • Fracturing an already fractured shale layer that currently at least *slows* transmission of pathogens and toxins to the deep aquifer. (His research on Well 7 was the first to positively demonstrate that the Eau Claire shale is indeed permeable, much of it human caused through overpumping and then overstoring masses of water on the surface. Conventional hydrogeology to that point had held that the shale layer was perfectly impermeable, protecting the deep aquifer. The reality: Warp it, crack it, pump hard, it stops protecting.).
  • Pulling denser, dangerously high concentrations of naturally occurring elements which in trace amounts are otherwise harmless (or nearly so)
This was the finding of his research, under UW-Madison Professor Kenneth Bradbury, at Well 7: That we are currently overpumping an already strained hydrogeologic system at Well 7.

And now we, as a city, want to:

  • Triple the size of the surface reservoir?
  • Pump even more?
  • Faster?
  • More vigorously?
  • Further exacerbating the fracturing? (Yes, the rapid pumping actually creates measurable seismic events under the well!)
  • Creating yet more pathways for toxins and disease right into our deep aquifer drinking water?
  • Actively pulling surface toxins and pathogens downward into the deep aquifer?
  • Increasing the concentrations of the naturally occurring neurologically damaging elements?
  • An expansion in capacity in an area that is essentially built-out and landlocked, not growing and not predicted to grow?
  • When there are so many more opportunities for conservation?

Indeed, before looking to expand capacity with these megalomaniacal tributes to manly engineering, we need to take a serious look at the consumption patterns across the city. We note that our 2-flat (that’s 2 separate families, one meter, 4 adults total) consumes 20% less than the average single family home (average occupancy: <2.3). Clearly, there is a vast chasm between need and waste in the current consumption patterns in this oh-so-enviro city. (Oh, and no one in our house stinks, there are no hairshirts in our respective wardrobes; during the summer we often take 2 showers/day given our high level of physical activity; the tenants have no financial incentive to conserve since they don’t pay the water utility bill, we water our trees, and this low level of water use held even when tenants had a baby, etc.). And we’re working on yet more absolutely invisible water conservation measures that will likely save us yet another 10-20 percentage points or more below the city average.

The fruit…it is so low-hanging that it is nearly dragging the ground!
And yet, everywhere we go–homes, city buildings, private businesses, non-profits–we see sink aerators that pour forth 2.2 gallons/minute (ours is 1.5; the glorious Overture Center’s faucets probably gush 4–FOUR!–gpm given that they have no aeration whatsoever!), showerheads that lavish >3.5 gpm (ours is 1.25, but feels lavish nonetheless), streets getting watered (how many sprinklers we see sending water right down city drains, never touching grass! how many thousands of gallons getting wasted in flushing operations!), new dishwashers that require handwashing before loading (yes, it is routine in the many households with dishwashers I have observed!), ….What’s the point of an EnergyStar/WaterSense dishwasher if you have to handwash the dishes first?
And the insanity continues…..
At Citizens Advisor Panel (CAP) meetings at least a couple of individuals tried to make the point that there is so much more room for conservation, but they were out-maneuvered by staff and out-voted by the timid. Indeed, there was but one lonely ‘no’ vote in a committee vote cast by the most intensely knowledgeable citizens on water issues. They were cowed by staff’s barrages of undigested data on water consumption. They should have held their ground.
And so it goes. Madison water utility leadership, much like Madison’s leadership in general swaddles itself in the attitude of consumption-at-all-costs-is-ok-because-we’re-a-liberal/progressive city.
We, the undersigned, refuse to go along with that groupthink. We choose to listen to the science. Thus, we oppose the expansion of Well 7. The extra water you seek is freely available in very simple, very cheap water management measures in households and institutions and industry.
We implore the Water Utility Board to smash the science denial that permeates the staff reports on the issue and simply say no to an expanded system at Well 7.
We note that only three Water Utility Board members showed up to the Technical Advisory Committee meeting at which Col. Gellasch laid out the hydrogeologic science of Well 7. One of those members has since been thrown off the commission for having raised precisely the questions that came out of that study. Pathetic political leadership made that happen. We implore you to rise above the politics of denial, even if it risks your tenure on the Water Utility Board. It would be worth it. You could achieve with this one action what others could never achieve even in 10 years of service.
On the science: for context, to get a private sector study of the scope and quality of the Gellasch Ph.D. would probably have cost $400,000 or more. It was groundbreaking, thorough, and, most importantly, highly specific to Well 7. And frankly, it was priceless because the funding was independent of the utility and thus untainted by staff’s pre-conceived notions.
To ignore the essential science–laid at your feet–amounts to willful ignorance.
You not only ignore the science at your peril. You, the board members of the Water Utility, ignore it at the peril of us all.
Because the science is clear: Build a mega-well at Well 7 and you:
  • Harm our aquifer
  • Harm our health
  • Deny science
We further maintain that an expanded Well 7 and similar efforts elsewhere in the city will:
  • Harm ratepayers
  • Harm the city’s future economic sustainability
Michael D. Barrett and Pamela S. Barrett
P.s. We give permission to forward this on to whomever, wherever.

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2 Responses to “Madison Water Utility’s Science Denial”

  1. […] 3.     Ignores citizen input from the Citizen Advisory Panels with regard to well-siting and capital investment priorities. The Eastside CAP prioritized Well 8 for filtering; Well 7 was way down the list of priorities. Well 8 languishes while Well 7 is being super-sized far beyond anything approved by any CAP, and is being built to a scale t…. […]

  2. […] 3.     Ignores citizen input from the Citizen Advisory Panels with regard to well-siting and capital investment priorities. The Eastside CAP prioritized Well 8 for filtering; Well 7 was way down the list of priorities. Well 8 languishes while Well 7 is being super-sized far beyond anything approved by any CAP, and is being built to a scale t…. […]