Sources and Risk Factors for Nitrate and Microbial Contamination of Private Household Wells in the Fractured Dolomite Aquifer of Northeastern Wisconsin.

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From: Environmental Health Perspectives(Vol. 129, Issue 6)
Publisher: National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
Document Type: Report
Length: 14,329 words
Lexile Measure: 1500L

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Abstract :

Background: Groundwater quality in the Silurian dolomite aquifer in northeastern Wisconsin, USA, has become contentious as dairy farms and exurban development expand. OBJECTIVES: We investigated private household wells in the region, determining the extent, sources, and risk factors of nitrate and microbial contamination. Methods: Total coliforms, Escherichia coli, and nitrate were evaluated by synoptic sampling during groundwater recharge and no-recharge periods. Additional seasonal sampling measured genetic markers of human and bovine fecal-associated microbes and enteric zoonotic pathogens. We constructed multivariable regression models of detection probability (log-binomial) and concentration (gamma) for each contaminant to identify risk factors related to land use, precipitation, hydrogeology, and well construction. RESULTS: Total coliforms and nitrate were strongly associated with depth-to-bedrock at well sites and nearby agricultural land use, but not septic systems. Both human wastewater and cattle manure contributed to well contamination. Rotavirus group A, Cryptosporidium, and Salmonella were the most frequently detected pathogens. Wells positive for human fecal markers were associated with depth-to-groundwater and number of septic system drainfield within 229 m. Manure-contaminated wells were associated with groundwater recharge and the area size of nearby agricultural land. Wells positive for any fecal-associated microbe, regardless of source, were associated with septic system density and manure storage proximity modified by bedrock depth. Well construction was generally not related to contamination, indicating land use, groundwater recharge, and bedrock depth were the most important risk factors. Discussion: These findings may inform policies to minimize contamination of the Silurian dolomite aquifer, a major water supply for the U.S. and Canadian Great Lakes region.

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A667734649