Posts Tagged ‘conservation’

Madison Water Utility’s Science Denial

Monday, March 25th, 2013


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.

Madison Water Utility to Deliver Brown Water to Eastside Taps this Summer

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

Tuesday evening, 5/25/2010, the Water Utility Board will be meeting:

4:30 PM WATER UTILITY BOARD 119 E. OLIN AVE. ROOMS A & B (pdf of agenda here)

Though the topic is not on the agenda, eastsiders are concerned about the Utility’s plans to open the spigot on Well 8 this summer.

This is the well that sits atop the Olbrich sledding hill. It serves the near east side (Atwood & environs). It has:

a) high manganese levels (the element that causes dirty brown water around here), and,

b) high bacteria counts (given the drawdown of the aquifer, the aquifer is now likely supplied by lakewater rather than the natural order of things, aquifer-feeding-into-lake).

Given the routine summertime drawdown of our aquifer (generally caused by obsessions with green lawns in August), the Utility — spurred by the Fire Department — goes into desperation mode and opens this dirty well during peak-demand summer months.

Eastsiders are, shall we say, concerned. And rightly so. Several of our leading lights are submitting comment about the need for a better, safer policy with regard to our water supply.

The overarching point is: The Water Utility needs to follow the sustainability, conservation path rather than the business-as-usual consumption-at-all-costs path.

Below are some of the emails constituting public comment submissions on the idea of adding such a dangerous water source to our drinking water.


From fae dremock

Sent : Saturday, May 22, 2010 8:58 PM

To : Larson, Alan

Subject : Well 8: keep it offline

Hi, Al–

Well 8 has long been pumping water into taps used for drinking water by older residents, folks with heart conditions, pregnant women, and your children.

All of those groups are considered at risk at the high levels of manganese and iron reported in Well 8 water– which in fact led to citizen concern and to utility investigation into the need for filtration of Well 8.

The high iron levels are also correlated (perhaps also causative) of increased bacterial growth in the well.

The Madison water utility has already reported that Well 8 NEEDS filtration, and the well was turned off to avoid using that well’s water as drinking water.

If we had an adequate summer conservation program in place and well disseminated in the neighborhoods in that pressure zone, the Well would not need to be turned back on. We even have ways of doing this outlined in the utility’s standard operating procedure for citizen process– which was approved by the common council.

We should NOT being turning Well 8 back on– in its current unfiltered state. And the utility doesn’t need the added publicity of citizen blowback or independent epidemiological studies of high manganese and high iron health effects on at-risk populations in Madison, whether seniors or young children or pregnant mothers.

Either filter Well 8, or keep it shut down.

Please include this email under Public Comment on the May 25 Water Utility Board Agenda–in case I am unable to attend the May 25 Board meeting in person.


Fae Dremock

Former member of the citizen water utility working group for Well 3 and a member of the citizen committee that worked with the water utility to create the SOP on citizen process.

Also, press card-carrying member of the National Science Writers Association.


From: Steven Klafka

Subject: City Well 8 Operating Schedule for 2010

To : “Larson, Alan”

Date : Thursday, May 20, 2010, 3:44 PM

Al Larson,

Probably because of my involvement on the Well 8 citizens advisory committee, I have seen recent emails regarding the operation of Well 8 this summer beginning in late June. As has been suggested, I think the Water Utility should seriously consider not operating Well 8 this summer, and not until a new filtration system is installed at Well 8 or in combination with other wells on the eastside.

As shown in the attachment to the January 2009 project scoping document, Well 8 iron levels are several times the taste threshold and twice the level at which laundry and plumbing staining occurs. Manganese levels are at the taste threshold, and exceed levels where it can coat water pipes and discolor water. Periodic variations above the average levels reported in the scoping document would be more noticeable. The manganese levels are well below the EPA lifetime health advisory value, but the potential for health effects merits more serious consideration of our options.

The neighborhood residents around Well 8 has shown to be great environmental advocates. If the water utility suggested that neighbors reduce excessive summertime water usage so Well 8 is not required, I think they will respond positively.

Thanks for considering my comments.

Steve Klafka

508 Elmside Boulevard

Madison, WI 53704

(608) 249-0231


Subject : Re: Please filter or keep Well 8 turned off this summer

Date : Thu, 20 May 2010 16:31:33 -0500

From : Betty Chewning

Organization : University of Wisconsin – Madison

To: Grande, Joseph , Lawrence Lundy

Mr Grande:

Thank you for sharing my comments at the Water Board meeting.  Could you share these as well?

It looks like you intend to keep Well 8 with its elevated iron and manganese levels going this summer.  You didn’t say whether you would filter it. My neighbors and I would like to know if you are going to do this.

I’m very interested in moving forward a sustainability approach to water management. City government is constantly faced with tradeoffs, which I understand having been a member of the Madison Park Commission for the past 9 years. I don’t mean to oversimplify your challenge, but my question is why not work much more on the conservation side of the question rather than assuming you need to keep #8 in service?  Let’s work together to encourage a sustainable mode of water use by Madison’s fine residents and industryl/ businesses?  We (your agency and those of us interested in sustainability ) can ask people/ business to use less.  The sustainable Atwood effort is trying to think about this issue. For example, with city or university help we or the city could establish per capita goals.  Through their water bills we could give people feedback of whether they are below, above, or at average use on their bills? ( I have a prius and the feedback on my second by second mileage has been powerful in changing my driving behavior to conserve gas).   This could be augmented with public education on formulas that each household could use to determine their own goal based on number of people in the household.  People could be taught to read their own meters and given shared equipment for doing that if needed. How hard would it be to put up on the City Water Utility web the list of behaviors that can help households, businesses and industry conserve water in the summer ( in addition to the formulaes). We use a sustain dane rain barrel to collect water for all of our plants in the summer for example.What are the resources such as this that can build the city’s capacity to conserve water. Not keeping your water running when brushing your teeth is a small start that Dr.Gilbert White, a prominent international water management expert from Univ. of Chicago,  advocated years ago just to raise consciousness that water is a scarce commodity.  The use of gray water certainly deserves discussion. Sounds like a grad student or internship project to me.  What do you think?

The translation of what is known both about human behavior and sustainable water practice and behavior is very exciting. What do you think about engaging the community in a full fledged public, industry and business education campaign on priority behaviors we can engage in to minimize our water use in Madison?  I would be happy as well as many others to help you think about it. This could be an exciting time rather than the contentious time that I”m afraid has marked well water discussions in the past. Just know that you are not alone if you choose to move in the direction of conservation and sustainability.

By the way, don’t misunderstand my point re. the serious health issues concentrated on my block. We (you and I) are all being exposed to numerous small chemical risks.  There is actually little done to estimate the interactive effects of all these small risks.  I simply don’t want my family to have another small exposure when there is no need for it.  And that is the real issue here.  If sustainability, which should happen anyway, were a central theme of madison’s policy we wouldn’t need for any elevated levels from well #8.  I sincerely and respectfully ask for your leadership on this.

Betty Chewning

***[The following message is from Water Utility a staffer]

Grande, Joseph wrote:

Thank you, Ms. Chewning, for your message regarding the planned operation of Well 8 later this year.  I have requested that your message be entered during the public comment period at next Tuesday’s Water Board meeting.

A filter at Well 8, or other Madison wells, would improve the aesthetic quality of the water and reduce the staining of clothes, shower curtains, and plumbing fixtures.  Comprehensive testing at the residential tap has shown that, when Well 8 operates, iron and manganese levels are indeed above the aesthetic threshold (i.e. the national secondary drinking water level) but well below levels deemed potentially unhealthy.  The primary problem with groundwater minerals like calcium (hardness), iron, and manganese is that they produce visible residues that are a nuisance.  Iron and manganese accumulate in water mains over time and periodically lead to discolored water at the tap.  The Water Utility already limits the operation of Well 8 to reduce the likelihood of discolored water at the residential tap.  Our flushing program further helps to lessen the chance of colored water by removing the mineral sediment before it can become a problem.

We plan to operate the well during the summer months (late June through early September) when water demands are higher due to outdoor water use.  Last year the well pumped 43 million gallons or about 1 million gallons per day and we anticipate similar operations this year. Seasonal wells, including Well 8, are important supply points to meet often unpredictable summer water demand.  They also serve as important backup supply during system problems (power outage, unplanned maintenance need, etc.) or major fire that could require additional supply.  As in previous years, we will monitor manganese and iron levels at the residential tap during the time when the well operates.  Test results from 2007-2009 are available on our website,

The Water Utility is committed to improving water quality throughout the water system and particularly at Well 8.  A Citizen Advisory Panel (CAP) was formed last year to allow citizen input into how the water quality concerns at Well 8 are addressed.  In addition, a consultant was recently hired to evaluate a host of treatment and operation alternatives not only for Well 8 but the entire near eastside.  The study should be completed by next summer, at which point a preferred alternative will be selected.  I encourage you to contact Al Larson (copied on this message) to become part of the CAP so that your concerns and preferences are incorporated into the planning process for improved water quality.

Finally, I am saddened to hear about the coincidental adverse health of several neighbors.  However, to my knowledge, the minerals impurities and the levels typically found in water pumped from Well 8 are not associated with these specific health conditions.  I believe Public Health Madison Dane County can more appropriately address your health-related concerns.  Jeff Lafferty (242-6491) is a good resource at Public Health.

Please feel free to contact me directly (266-4654) if you have any other water quality questions.


Joseph Grande

Water Quality Manager

Madison Water Utility



From : Foxcroft, Melanie A – DHS

Sent : Monday, May 24, 2010 3:32 PM

Subject : PUBLIC COMMENT for May 25 Board Agenda

To : Greg Harrington Water Utility Board Chair

Please include my comment below under the PUBLIC COMMENT portion of the May 25 Board Agenda, thanks!

I request that the Madison Water Utility educate and support efforts by residents in the Well #8 area to conserve water this summer, including: collect “grey” water from their households to re-use on their gardens; plant more drought-resistant lawns and garden plants (including seed & plant suggestions); reduce watering lawns (be proud of your brown lawn!); collect rain water from downspouts to use on gardens; and similar measures.

While there may be a perception that Madison has water to waste, I contend that simple water re-use and conservation measures by individuals may have a major impact on water use, limiting drawdown from wells and aquifers that have challenged water quality/quantity including well #8.  The Madison Water utility can support this by including conservation information in their bills; by initiating a concerted public announcement/education campaign; by delivering downspout collection devices free to ALL households much as trash collection bins were delivered free; offering neighborhood workshops on how to connect the devices and conserve water; limiting certain types of fertilizers; and similar measures.

A little education and awareness can go a long way!

Keeping farm phosphorous out of our lakes is a Dane County issue, but we can start locally.  THANK YOU


Consider sending your own message about keeping our water clean to the folks at the Water Utility Board here:

ARobb – at –