In 1927, the Waukesha Water Utility drilled an 1,835-foot-deep well to reach a source of clean, fresh water: the St. Peter Sandstone Aquifer.
Waukesha wasn’t the first to tap into this resource, and it certainly wasn’t the last. In the years since we drilled that well, more and more growing communities in southeastern Wisconsin and northeastern Illinois began pumping water out of the St. Peter Aquifer to meet their ever-increasing needs.
Further complicating matters, a thick layer of shale between the earth’s surface and the underground water keeps rain and snowmelt from reaching the aquifer. So the St. Peter Sandstone Aquifer didn’t replenish fast enough to keep up with demand, and the water level kept dropping.
And as the water level drops, concentrations of salts and minerals rise. That includes radium, a naturally occurring carcinogen. Water from Waukesha’s once reliable source now has radium concentrations that exceed what are considered safe levels. Currently, part of the water extracted from the aquifer is treated to remove the radium.
But the bigger problem remains. The amount of water in the aquifer continues to decrease, making it an unsustainable option for the future.