AUGUST 19, 2019 IMPORTANT UPDATE: The Oneida County Health Department does not recommend drinking from the Crescent Spring because the test for PFAS came back as positive. More information can be found in a report here from WXPR's Mackenzie Martin.
JULY 23, 2019 IMPORTANT UPDATE: According to a press release today, the Oneida County Health Department is unsure whether the Crescent Spring is currently safe to drink. The DNR is in the process of testing it and many other local wells for PFAS, which was recently found as contamination in a well near the Rhinelander-Oneida County Airport. More information can be found in a report here from WXPR's Ken Krall.
Today we’re answering a Curious North question about a specific source of drinking water near Rhinelander.
Mackenzie Martin continues our We Live Up Here series with the story.
Recently we got a Curious North question from someone on the hunt for local spring water.
Jim Rosenberg in Rhinelander asked: What’s with the spring water in Rhinelander I’ve heard about? I met someone in Wausau who mentioned he’s been coming to Rhinelander since he was a kid to fill jugs of this special water.
When this question came in, I had never heard of this spring, but I quickly found out that a lot of people have.
For those who haven’t: if you’re leaving downtown Rhinelander on Highway 8, all you do is take a left on South River Road and eventually your destination will be on your right.
In the first 15 minutes I was there I saw two cars pull up with empty jugs. Everyone I talked to said they come to the spring on a regular basis and agreed that it just tastes better than other water.
“I've got plenty of water in my well at home, but it’s high in iron,” said Kevin Schwartz. “The dog won’t even drink it.”
Why does it taste better though? And is it even safe to drink in the first place?
The person who was able to answer both of those questions was Todd Troskey with the Oneida County Health Department. He’s been sampling the Town of Crescent spring water annually for bacteria and nitrates since 2006 and is a registered environmental health specialist.
He said tests for 2019 have already come back saying the water at the spring is safe to drink. In 2018, a citizen group ran a test for heavy metals on the spring water and found they weren’t an issue either.
Whenever there is a positive for bacteria—like there was in 2015—the health department posts a sign, but all in all the spring water is usually safe to drink. That’s even considering the fact that it's located close to an old landfill, which has been closed for roughly 20 years.
Testing water is a big job for the Oneida County Health Department, but this is the only spring they keep an eye on and while there are a lot of other springs in Wisconsin, they’re still pretty unique.
“It is unique for Oneida County,” said Todd Troskey. “There are other counties that have springs but it’s not like there’s a spring everywhere… You have to have the right combination of geology for a spring like this to form.”
He also said that scientifically speaking, there really are reasons why the spring water might taste better than say our local well water.
“It’s going to have less contact time for there to be impurities... As opposed to a well where you’re going to have contact with the inside of the casing and piping in your house as it gets up to your faucet,” he said.
Another factor is the pH of the local groundwater compared with the pH of the spring water.
“A lot of residential wells in this area have high iron concentrations,” said Troskey. “And of course one of the reasons for that is that the pH of the groundwater in our area is actually fairly low, it’s 5.5 - 6.”
Meanwhile the spring water is pretty close to 7 or neutral, which means it’s less acidic than a lot of our local groundwater, making it popular for local residents especially.
“[The spring] has definitely gained popularity, especially probably within the last 10 years,” said Troskey. “That may be a result of the public’s awareness of things like the Flint water crisis and things of that nature, but I think in general there’s just more of an awareness of the potential for water to be detrimental for people.”
Todd Troskey said he’s thankful that unlike places like Flint, Michigan, the Northwoods has always had a lot of safe and clean drinking water.
“It’s really an advantage to living in an area where there’s just water everywhere, be it rivers or creeks or springs or lakes,” he said. “We just have very abundant water and it’s very good water.”
The Oneida County Health Department is available to test private well water, something they recommend residents do annually. The DNR website also keeps an archive of previous water testing results for public areas.
For those interested in checking out the spring, it’s on google maps if you search for Town of Crescent Artesian Spring.
There are also a lot of other springs in Wisconsin, many of which you can find here: http://www.findaspring.com/
This story is part of our We Live Up Here series and was the answer to a listener question. Music for this story came from Blue Dot Sessions: Faster Faster Brighter by Blue Dot Sessions (www.sessions.blue).
If you have a question you'd like WXPR to investigate, submit it below to our Curious North series.