CRANDON - Recently, flooding closed roads and frustrated communities from Rhinelander to Plover. A bad combination of rain and melting snow led to days of flood warnings. As those warnings go away, a related risk could do a lot more than frustrate you - it could make you sick. Flooding can cause contamination in wells, but the Northwoods is lucky to have a world-class water testing facility.
RT Krueger's Northern Lake Service in Crandon has about 50 specialized machines that test drinking water for half of the municipalities in Wisconsin. Krueger tests Rhinelander's water three times a week. Every year 65,000 water samples flow in and out of this lab.
"The safe drinking water testing for the city of Madison is being performed up in little tiny Crandon," said Krueger.
Many people have their own wells, which are not tested regularly like municipal water. If your well is submerged due to flooding, filtered groundwater mixes with potentially harmful surface water.
"You're introducing the bacteria and all the compounds and organisms that are normally above the water that you're drawing," said Krueger.
The bacteria coliform is the biggest risk. Besides Northern Lake Service, many county public health departments can test for coliform as well. The Lincoln County Health Department in Merrill has a small water testing lab. Environmental health specialist Meghan Williams tests samples for coliform using a chemical reaction. The solution incubates in a refrigerator for 30 hours.
"If they are yellow they are total coliform negative," said Williams. "If they are purple or magenta they are total coliform positive."
Kruger said these tests should only be done after the flooding has subsided, and instructs to use a different water source if possible. The coliform test usually costs between $20 and $30 dollars.