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Drinking Water: Manure in Private Wells

Manure can pose a serious health risk if it gets into drinking water.

Child's hand holding a glass of water

Manure contains germs that can make people sick. Common symptoms include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, cramps and fever. The elderly, young children, and people with a weak immune system are at the most risk for getting sick.

Talk to your doctor if you or a family member have symptoms that you believe are related to your drinking water.

Private wells can become contaminated if they are near areas where manure is spread, stacked, or stored.

Some wells are at greater risk for manure contamination:

  • Wells that are near farm fields, barn yards, or feed lots.
  • Wells that are in areas with sandy soils, fractured bedrock, or karst features.
  • Wells that are shallow or damaged.

A licensed well professional can help you determine if your well's location or construction puts it at risk for manure contamination.

Take action right away to protect yourself and your family if your water smells like manure or is brown or yellow.

Use safe water for for drinking, preparing food, brushing teeth, washing hands, and bathing. Safe water includes bottled water and water from a private well or municipal system that is not impacted by the contamination.

Inform the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) of the situation. Contact the private well specialist for your region or the DNR violation hotline.

DNR will investigate if manure is the cause of the water quality issues. They may ask you to collect a sample of your water for bacteria (total coliform and E. coli) or collect samples themselves.

  • If manure is the source of the contamination, DNR may provide you with temporary drinking water and work with you to find a long-term solution to the contamination.
  • If manure is not the source of the contamination, you should still take steps to address the situation and protect yourself and your family from bacteria.

You should also follow these tips to keep yourself and your family safe:

Throw out any ice or drinks made with the contaminated water.

Sanitize your dishes before using them. You can use your dishwasher's sanitize cycle or wash them by hand using a sanitizing solution.

Provide your pets with safe water, too.

Test your well regularly for other common contaminants.

Manure infographic

Click the image for a copy of the Manure in Private Wells infographic (P-02952)


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Last revised May 19, 2023