Rhinelander Wellhead Protection Plan Passed Without Debate, Public Comment

Nov 12, 2019

Credit Ben Meyer/WXPR

Despite ongoing concerns about city drinking water, Rhinelander’s Common Council adopted a Wellhead Protection Plan Monday night without debate or any public comment.

In June, the city shut down one of its wells in June after high readings of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a contaminant and health risk.  PFAS levels in that well are now low, but a different form of PFAS in another city well is rising.  The second well is still active.

On Monday night, the Common Council voted to include the city’s four-year-old Wellhead Protection Plan in Rhinelander’s Comprehensive Plan.  No members of the public commented on the move.

“[It’s a] required document from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources relating to the protection of groundwater when we punch holes into the aquifer at public well sites so that contaminants don’t enter the aquifer at those sites,” City Administrator Daniel Guild explained to the council.

The Wellhead Protection Plan doesn’t mention PFAS, but highlights fire-fighting foam, a known source of the contaminant.

“In the event of an emergency situation, aircraft fire extinguishing agents & aircraft fuel could pose a significant threat to the wells,” the document says.

The wells references are Wells 7 and 8, which are located at the Rhinelander-Oneida County Airport and have had heightened PFAS readings.  The foam has never been used in an emergency, but two to four gallons are tested every year in following with federal regulations.