Portage county citizens are coming together to pass an ordinance that addresses health concerns resulting from high levels of nitrates in ground water.
It began in the township of New Hope when a group of citizens became concerned about their groundwater quality.
“Nitrates move very quickly through the soil, especially on big crops like corn which is very inefficient in terms of taking up nitrogen. When you dump a bunch of nitrogen on corn, the roots only capture about 40 percent and all the rest of the nitro goes through the ground, into the ground water,” said Jim McKnight, a New Hope resident.
The concerns the New Hope citizens have, are not simply over the potential for nitrates to enter into the groundwater systems.
“29 percent of portage county wells have nitrates over 10mg/L and that’s the real danger level, but a lot of scientific studies have shown that there are measurable health effects at as low as half of that, so that would be about 75 percent of Portage county wells,” McKnight said.
There were also concerns about waste management practices which came about after residents discovered the city of Appleton’s sewage sludge was disposed of in Portage County.
After writing an ordinance to bring to the township government, the citizens of New Hope found that legislation passed in the township would be difficult to enforce. Thus, the ordinance was brought to county government.
Within the Portage County Board is the Groundwater Citizens Advisory Committee, or GCAC, on which there is a person from each city, town or village in the county. Every eight to ten years the committee revises their groundwater protection plan based on new research.
“By a happy coincidence the GCAC was just completing their eight years of research into the science of the problem,” said McKnight as he described how the two groups joined forces.
The GCAC passed a plan to review the proposed ordinance and began developing a subcommittee which would take over the review process.
The first meeting of the subcommittee took place on Feb. 23.
By state law, all government meetings are open to the public. Supporters of the proposed ordinance are encouraging the public to attend the meetings.
“The idea is to have as many people attending the meeting as possible in order to keep the momentum and pressure on the committee, to keep it going forward, and pass the ordinance,” said Raymond Cal, a supporter of the ordinance.
Once the subcommittee finishes their review, which could take several months, the ordinance will then have to be passed by the GCAC and some committees of the Portage County Board before being brought to the county board for final approval.
The next meeting will take place on Thursday, March 30 at the Aging and Disabilities Resource Center at 1519 Water St. in Stevens Point.