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Rhinelander looks for locations to build new well

Ben Meyer

Last month, the EPA released a proposed rule that would create a goal of having zero trace of certain PFAS chemical in drinking water.

It would enforce changes at 4 parts per trillion for two of the most common ones: PFOS and PFOA.

In 2019, Rhinelander shut down two of its wells over elevated levels of PFAS that were dozens of times higher than that recommendation.

Since then the city has been functioning on three wells. They’re supporting the city’s needs.

But if the EPA’s proposed PFAS rule went into effect tomorrow, the city might run into trouble.

The city voluntarily tests all its wells quarterly for PFAS. The January 2023 test shows two of the wells had barely traceable levels below the EPA’s proposed rule. Well 6 had a PFOA level of 4.1 ppt which would require action under the EPA’s proposed rule.

“The water is also mixed with the other two in our tower. No is getting a single well directly. It all goes to the water tower, and it’s dispensed,” said Rhinelander Mayor Kris Hanus. “Even that trace amount we’re finding in one which is below any standard today is still even more diluted for coming out of your tap. Currently, there’s no issue with our water.”

PFAS levels do fluctuate. In the three years Rhinelander has been testing, Well 6 has fluctuated between 3-6.5 ppt.

The EPA rule would require municipalities and utilities to take action to ensure people have clean drinking water.

When Wausau found elevated levels of PFAS in its wells, the city didn’t have the option of just shutting some wells down since it was in all of the wells.

It’s now paying $800,000 a year for a filtration systemto remove the chemicals.

“I mean you look at the City of Rhinelander, that’s one tenth of our total budget for a year. That would be huge. People are talking we can’t fix potholes fast enough. You can’t do nothing if we’re losing a tenth of our budget,” said Hanus.

Hanus says the issue is on his mind, but his focus right now when it comes to PFAS is working a solution for the two out-of-commission wells.

“Until whatever forces that be, meaning the EPA, the DNR, the state, the feds tell us what is good or not, it’s kind of hard to spend tax payers money on a guess,” said Hanus. “That’s why we’re more pushing, let’s get another well online, get more supply and then let’s look at addressing [the other wells] once the dust settles.”

The City of Rhinelander is currently collecting data and developing plans to build a new well.

Hanus says the city council has approved the first level of locating a potential site.

“This is where they’re pulling data from the DNR, pulling data from all wells that have been drilled private or publicly just to find a location that has very high potential for high volume and clean water,” said Hanus.

The goal is to find an area that’s free of pollutants like PFAS and lead, but also has some of the infrastructure in place that would help lower the cost.

Hanus says they’re trying to find a location on the east side of the city.

“Areas kind of up by Menards made some sense because we do have a water tower there, which means we have high volume pipes there. A lot of the cost of a well is getting the right size utility from the well head to the system. That location makes sense because we have large diameter pipes,” said Hanus.

The city did receive $1.6 million from the federal government to address its PFAS issues. Hanus says the city is still working with officials to see how that money can be used.

Rhinelander plans to keep testing its wells quarterly for PFAS.

Wells 7 and 8 have been showing PFAS levels significantly lower than when they were first shut down.

Hanus said they would have to flush more water out of those wells to get a more accurate reading of PFAS levels, but that would potentially contaminate the city’s entire water supply.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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