Nitrate in our water

Nitrate in groundwater is due largely to agricultural activity and is linked to negative health effects including cancer, birth defects, even infant death. Farm run-off that gets into our groundwater, lakes, and streams contains dangerous pathogens, bacteria, and chemicals. Nearly 100,000 homes in Wisconsin have wells contaminated with nitrate.

The health risks include:

  • Blue Baby Syndrome, an emergency health situation in which infants are not getting enough oxygen in their blood and can die;
  • adverse pregnancy outcomes, including very low birth weight, very pre-term birth, and incurable brain and spinal cord defects like spina bifida;
  • cancers, including colorectal, bladder, ovarian, thyroid, and kidney; and
  • diabetes, especially in children.

Erika: “It’s in our shower and our faucets. It’s disgusting, and it’s affecting thousands of families just like mine.”

Erika's story

Families are suffering across the state. Erika Balza’s Kewaunee County home is everything to her and her husband, Rob. When they woke to liquid manure streaming from their faucets and shower, their dream home turned into a nightmare. They had to replace a well and buy new appliances, but still can’t drink their water. Erika, disgusted by the situation, spoke up on local television and through Wisconsin Conservation Voters. Her willingness to share her family’s story helped bring the reality of the state’s drinking water crisis to the forefront.


We need to prevent pollution before it gets into our water. In 2018, the Department of Natural Resources Board approved strengthened manure spreading rules in eastern Wisconsin called NR 151. Now, it’s time to extend those rules to all parts of the state we know are most sensitive to nitrate pollution.

NR 151 should be strengthened in the next 10 years to include enforcement mechanisms so that polluters can be held accountable. We also need to help people whose water is already contaminated. The state’s well compensation program, which provides grants for well replacement, only replaces wells that provide water for farm animals – not humans! Also, the household income limits haven’t been changed since 1984.

It’s time to modernize income requirements and make wells that human beings use eligible for replacement, too.

Learn more about nitrate and it’s devastating consequences on our health.


“Protecting our waters, lands, and citizens requires that decision-making be informed by science. Period.”

scientist. dad. voter.

Jake Vander Zanden, Madison


As factory farms have increased in size and number in Wisconsin, manure has contaminated the drinking water of hundreds of thousands of families, leaving entire communities at risk from health problems ranging from diarrhea to learning disabilities to infant death. In response, last year, Wisconsin Conservation Voters kicked off its campaign for stronger manure rules called NR 151. Working with partner groups, we recruited 310 citizens from across the state to speak out at Conservation Lobby Day.

After that, we engaged citizens through public hearings, online petitions and actions, a telephone town hall, and events and education. Throughout, we kept a constant drumbeat on the worst polluters, including the powerful Dairy Business Association (DBA). Because conservation voters like you came out strong for new manure spreading rules, the DBA and other polluters withdrew their opposition, and the DNR Board passed the rules unanimously.


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