Oh, the Places I Go

Map of Madison Wisconsin.
Map of Madison Wisconsin.
Map of the lakes from WisContext.

Living in a city situated between two scenic lakes, I had to wonder why my drinking water wasn’t coming from either one of them. Madison, Wisconsin gets its drinking water from a sandstone aquifer that sits 90 to 95 feet below the ground’s surface according to Madison Water Utility. Twenty-two wells and many more pipes intertwine to serve the ever-growing population of this capital city.

dock on lake mendota
A dock going out into Lake Mendota. Photo from TripAdvisor.

Primary waterfront access comes with its disadvantages. Driving down John Nolen Drive, you can spot people fishing and sailing, perhaps even swimming or tanning. Although the water appears to be pristine from the street, urban runoff and invasive species have done damage to the aquatic ecosystem. UW-Madison Center for Limnology blog indicates that last year Madison experienced one of the biggest toxic algal blooms since 1994. Algal blooms such as these are frequently caused by runoff pesticides and herbicides as well as invasive aquatic plants. Declining water quality can also be the result of seemingly unobtrusive culprits like road salt. More information on sodium chloride in groundwater can be found here.

Graph from Madison Water Utility.

Here’s something fascinating: The graph above shows that the capital city’s water demand has actually gone down even though population has been on the rise. An article by Next City attributes declining water demand in big cities like New York and Los Angeles to updated infrastructure with less leaks and higher efficiencies. Madison Water Utility suspects other causes like the implementation of new high-efficiency washers and low-flow showerheads.

The skies of Chicago.

Chicago is another metropolis located less than three hours away from Madison. Chicago is a popular place to study for Environmental Engineers and water aficionados because the city had high death rates from cholera and typhoid fever prior to the 1860’s due to waterborne disease from sewage. In the beginning of the 20th century, Chicago reversed the flow of Chicago River to direct wastewater away from Lake Michigan and instead towards the Mississippi. Since then, water related illnesses have essentially vanished from the City of Broad Shoulders. More on the how the reversal was done can be read on Chicago Line Cruises.

a weeping tree in Wisconsin
A charming tree I spotted in Madison.

I hope you learned something about water today. I learned that the well water supplying my apartment was actually high in sodium last year, which is slightly concerning to me because I drink it to stay hydrated, not to become more thirsty! Of course, one measurement doesn’t speak for water quality throughout the year, so it’s not a huge concern of mine especially in the summer when sodium in water tends to decrease. It also looked like chlorination was the main method of water decontamination but there weren’t too many details on the process on the water quality report.

Where does the water come from in your town? Do you have a low-flow showerhead or efficient washer? Does your town have really old infrastructure like my hometown in New York or is it more of an up-and-coming city with newer public highways and waterways? Thanks for reading, Jess.

10 responses to “Oh, the Places I Go”

  1. Very interesting read.

    World wide, water contamination is problematic. Even in aquifer’s (below ground lakes), there can be some contamination. I live in the UK. There are poisonous blue alga blooms in many of our waterways during hot summers. Mostly our drinking water is safe, but there are occasional times when a water authority has to issue a temporary ‘boil tap water’ alert on when something like Salmonella infects the water source. Mostly it happens due to intensive farming practices (factory farms), which I’m totally against.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Wow…salmonella is something I didn’t think would be an issue where I live but we actually have a lot of farming too so I wonder what it affects here. A toxic algae is a huge problem, it’s crazy that its a worldwide issue now. Thanks for telling me about that, I didn’t know that about the UK!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The water in the Cleveland area comes from the tears of broken dreams and Cleveland sports fans. That means it’s very, very salty.

    In actuality, I don’t know where my water comes from. I hope it’s not Lake Erie or the EPA-listed area of concern river that runs through my town, as neither source is particularly clean.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Thanks for the great information, particularly interesting stuff with the river reversal. Our water comes from Skaneateles Lake which now has trouble with blue-green algae blooms in the summer. (http://waer.org/post/experts-increasing-nutrient-load-likely-blame-algal-blooms-skaneateles-lake-and-others) What can I do to make sure my water is safe for my family? Will boiling it get rid of the algae?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Most techniques to get rid of cyanobacteria are preventative. In wastewater treatment, there are a series of tanks that kill bacteria by circulating them through anaerobic, anoxic, and aerobic systems in that order to mitigate nitrate and nitrite concentrations. This limits conditions that algal blooms need to thrive. Very fine screens can be used to limit algal intake but toxic algae can get through even these. Aquarium owners are known to use certain chemicals like ozone to get rid of algal blooms in their water. This would be an expensive home method because of the volume of ozone required. This is a widespread issue that still needs solving!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. And to answer your last question, boiling will not kill cyanobacteria. You would be best drinking store bought water, or possibly switching to well water. Cyanobacteria is a photosynthetic bacteria so they aren’t a huge issue in well water, although I have seen some interesting articles on bacteria that live underground (I’ll have to look into that).

      Liked by 1 person

  4. A great post! It is interesting to think about where our water actually comes from – we just expect it to come flowing out the tap but never really give much thought to it’s journey prior. Water is an essential resource, which we should be taking much better care, especially as demands increase!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. So true. Thanks for reading 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. You blog is wonderful.
    “Oh the places you will go.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much, Cindy 🙂


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