La Valle community relies on bottled water after contaminant is found in the well

Residents got a notice to not drink or cook with the water in late December.
Published: Jan. 29, 2021 at 5:50 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 29, 2021 at 9:03 PM CST
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VILLAGE OF LA VALLE, Wis. (WMTV) - A small community in Sauk County has been relying on bottled water for more than a month, after residents were told to not drink or cook with the tap water because unsafe levels of a chemical was found.

The Village of La Valle, which is home to roughly 375 people, put out an advisory that the well water was unsafe to consume on Dec. 23.

“It’s kind of difficult sometimes,” said resident Arlene Churchill, who had to pick up more cases of water Friday.

La Valle resident Scott Anderson said his family is managing the new routine of picking up their weekly supply.

“We use it to cook with, make coffee, drink with,” he said.

Village President Rockie Sobeck said residents have been getting water from them and local springs.

“We usually hand out two cases every time they stop, and then we deliver a case to certain residents,” he said.

Sobeck said they found small amounts of Benzene, a widely used industrial chemical, in March of 2020 in their well. The chemical is a major part of gasoline and often used when making plastics, according the the Wisconsin Dept. of Health Services.

“We only have one well, so we really can’t shut it down until we get a second well in,” he said.

As crews continued testing, the levels in the water climbed to 112 micrograms per liter, according to Sobeck. He said health issues can occur when levels exceed 100 micrograms per liter.

Sobeck said they have never detected it before and does not know where it is coming from. He said no one has gotten sick, but they are monitoring the situation and continuing to test the water.

He said when they learned of the high levels, the village scrambled to buy water right before the holidays. Sobeck said donations have helped, including an additional ten pallets of water dropped off by Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin Friday.

Kris Tazelaar, a representative with Second Harvest, said the supply should last about a month.

“We knew we had some extra water in our warehouse and honestly this is just what we do,” Tazelaar said.

Sobeck said they secured a $1.4 million dollar grant from the USDA to install a new filtration system and well. He said the hope is to have the filtration installed by late February and a new well built in the next two years.

Sobeck said the filtration system will allow them to drink the water. However, they won’t be able to find the source of the Benzene until the second well is built.

Residents, like Churchill, said they hope the problem is solved sooner than later.

“I wash up as best as I can using some warmed up good water, but you know I don’t like to shower in it even,” she said.

According to DHS, long-term exposure to benzene can increase the risk of developing leukemia, cause anemia and weaken the immune system.

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