Erika Balza does not drink the water out of her tap. Despite having a new well installed that came with a price tag of more than $13,000, she doesn’t trust it.

“We’ve just written it off,” says Balza, a 47-year-old former paralegal and title insurance agent. “I did say after the new well was installed that old habits die hard, that you don’t drink the water. But in the back of your mind you just re-question if it’s really safe, at any time.”

Part of the reason: One evening in October 2016, as Balza and her husband were getting ready for bed, they turned on the faucets. Out came dark brown water that smelled like manure.

“I mean, that’s just disgusting,” Balza says.

Balza’s house has been in her husband Rob’s possession since 1993, built originally by his great-grandparents in the late 1800s and situated in Wisconsin farmland a mile east of the town of Luxemburg. Out of the municipal water system’s reach, the couple relies on a private well system that’s replenished by groundwater.

Balza says she knew when she moved into the home in 2012 that the water was contaminated, though for the most part – the 2016 incident a major exception – it flows relatively clear. The couple uses it to wash dishes, take showers or run loads of laundry, but not for drinking or cooking.

While brown water events like Balza’s are less common than they used to be, recent work by researchers with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the University of Wisconsin has provided evidence of an issue some Kewaunee County residents have lived with for years and become increasingly vocal about. The findings showed that approximately 28 percent of county wells have some form of nitrate or bacterial contamination, with certain regions – especially around the towns of Red River and Lincoln in the northwest part of the county – experiencing contamination rates from 35 to 45 percent.

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