About the Project

Well 19 exterior

Purpose: Improve water quality by reducing iron, manganese and radium that occurs naturally in the source water

Project Budget: $7.6 million Anticipated construction start date: 2023

Project Overview

Located on University of Wisconsin property on Lake Mendota Drive near the Eagle Heights student housing complex, Well 19 pumps approximately 500 million gallons of water a year to the University and surrounding near west side neighborhoods. It is the major supply to the UW Hospital complex, most of the UW campus and also supplies water to residents of Shorewood Hills. The well facility was built in 1974 and includes a 3-million gallon buried reservoir.

This project focuses on the removal of three naturally-occurring contaminants: iron, manganese and radium. All three of these contaminants are near or above 80% of their federally regulated maximum contaminant levels. When the 80% threshold is exceeded, Madison Water Utility Board policy requires action to reduce contaminant levels. Iron and manganese are considered by the Environmental Protection Agency to be “secondary” contaminants and are regulated for aesthetic considerations, such as taste and color. Radium is a “primary” contaminant and is regulated to protect human health.

While the water from Well 19 has never been in violation of federal health standards, Madison Water Utility has measured radium levels above the federal maximum contaminant level (MCL) of 5 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) four times since 2011:

July 2011 - 5.8 pCi/L, Feb. 2015 - 5.3 pCi/L, Aug. 2019 - 5.9 pCi/L and May 2021 – 5.3 pCi/L

The MCL for radium is meant to ensure the safety of water over a lifetime of consumption. Results would have to be consistently above 5 pCi/L for at least a year of quarterly samples in order for the water to be considered in violation of federal health standards. Over the past three years, the annual average of quarterly samples for combined radium levels at Well 19 has ranged from 3.6 to 4.8 pCi/L.Find out more about recent water quality testing at Well 19 in the Well 19 Testing Report

Project Milestones:

  • Pilot Testing: Completed in 2018

    • Pilot testing is the use of small-scale treatment systems to demonstrate how full-scale systems will perform in given conditions.  The objective is to test multiple filtration mediums and flow rates to determine the best option for a full-sized treatment system. 

  • Conceptual Design: Completed in 2019

    • Using the pilot test results, the optimal size and number of filtration tanks, and the filtration medium are determined.  Conceptual layouts and building configurations are explored and presented in a short report.  
  • Preliminary Design: Completed Setember 2022
    • The objective of the preliminary design phase is to bring two to three alternatives to a level of detail that building design, operational parameters and expected construction costs are known.   These options are presented to regulators, the public and the Water Board for feedback and ultimately the selection of a preferred option.   
  • Final Design: Underway 
    • In the final design phase the preferred option is designed in full detail.  Construction plans, contract specifications and a detailed cost estimate are prepared.  The final design must be approved by regulators and other review authorities including the Public Service Commission, Department of Natural Resources, City of Madison, Water Utility Board and University of Wisconsin. 
  • Bidding: Expected Summer 2023
    • Bidding is performed through the City of Madison’s competitive public works process.  The construction documents are available to interested firms who submit a price for the construction.  The bids are due after a month of advertising and the contract is awarded to the lowest qualified bidder. 
  • Construction: Expected Late 2023 through 2025
    • Once a construction contract has been signed, the contractor can begin working on the project.  Typically the contractor and any sub-contractors meet with the design team just before getting started to go over the project schedule and discuss first steps.  The contractor and design team meet regularly during construction to resolve issues and keep the project on schedule. 
    • Expected construction duration has increased due to supply-chain issues and long lead times for specialty equipment.  It is expected that construction will begin in the summer of 2023, slowdown or cease over the winter of 2023-2024 and restart in the spring of 2024. Completion is expected in summer or fall of 2025. 
  • Testing and Start-up: Expected Late 2025
    • The objective of start-up is to test and document that the treatment system meets or exceeds all water quality goals and required flow rates.  Each component of the system is tested then the entire system must be successfully operated for one week to complete the start-up process. 



Q: How will the quality of my water be improved after the project?

A: Radium levels will be significantly reduced to well below the Federal standard.  You can expect fewer instances of orange or brown tinted water. The minerals that cause this discoloration will be removed by the treatment process. In addition, you will experience better-tasting water since the amount of metals in the water will be reduced. 

Q: Should I be concerned about the current levels of radium in my water?

A: No. Long-term, chronic exposure to radium above the Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) may increase health risks. However, drinking water standards are established to protect sensitive populations and they contain a margin of safety to account for population variability and uncertainty associated with health studies. Our enhanced monitoring at Well 19 shows that the radium level has been stable for several years.

Q: How will the project change the look of the facility?

A: The treatment system will consist of a number of large filtration tanks and associated piping which will be housed in an addition to the northeast side of the existing building. The addition design will architecturally complement the existing building, but with a contrasting color exterior. Additionally, a separate, semi-buried backwash tank will be constructed north of the addition. The driveway will be relocated to the east to accommodate the new structures and improve access. Existing mature trees and other landscaping will preserved to the extent possible. New native landscaping, including deciduous shade and ornamental trees, shrubs and grass sedd mixes will be planted along the west, north and east side of the site to improve screening from Eagle Heights and the Lakeshore Nature Preserve. The existing building footprint is approximately 2900 square feet; the new building addition and backwash tank together will add approximately 2300 square feet of footprint to the site. .

Q: How will the project affect traffic in the neighborhood? What about other construction impacts?

A: Lake Mendota Drive will remain open in both directions although there may be occasional short duration closures to allow for the delivery of materials and equipment. There will be more than usual traffic in and out of the site during construction of the project. Expect typical construction-related noise during allowable construction hours of 7am to 7pm Monday through Saturday and 10am to 7pm Sunday during active construction.

Q: Will I experience water shut-offs or service interruptions due to this project?

A: No, though the facility may be shut down for short periods, there are no planned disruptions to service.

Past Meetings / Additional Information

April 2017 - Water Utility Board Approves Phase 1 Project
The Water Utility Board gave approval for MWU staff to move forward with the first phase of the project by issuing a Request for Proposal (RFP) to hire an engineering consulting firm to assist with pilot testing and conceptual design.  The RFP was issued in July.

September 2017 – Phase 1 Consulting Firm Selected & Hired
MWU staff reviewed proposals from three engineering firms and recommended hiring Strand Associates.  A resolution to hire Strand Associates was passed by the Water Board, Board of Public Works and the Common Council. 

Late 2017 to Early 2018– Pilot Test Planning & Approval
The MWU and Strand Associates design team considered potential treatment options and finalized pilot testing protocols.  The submittals for pilot testing were prepared and submitted DNR for review and approval.    

Mid 2018 to Late 2018 – Pilot Testing
On-site, small-scale testing of different filtration media and flow rates was conducted to confirm that water quality and quantity objectives were met and to determine the most efficient and cost-effective full-sized treatment system. 

Mid-2019 Pilot Test & Conceptual Design Reports Delivered
Strand Associates completed and delivered a comprehensive report detailing pilot testing protocols, test results and conclusions.  Strand also authored a conceptual design report where alternatives were analyzed. Strand recommended a 16-vessel pyrolusite filtration system to optimize water quality and quantity goals.  The report identified two conceptual building configurations to house the new system: a vertical expansion of the existing building or a horizontal expansion with a new stand-alone building.  The delivery of these two documents concluded the Phase 1 work. 

November 2021 - Water Utility Board Approves Phase 2 Project
The Water Utility Board gave approval for MWU staff to move forward with the second phase of the project by issuing a Request for Proposal (RFP) to hire an engineering consulting firm to assist with preliminary and final design, and bidding, construction and start-up services.  The RFP was issued in late December.

March 2022 – Phase 2 Consulting Firm Selected & Hired
MWU staff reviewed proposals from two engineering firms and recommended hiring SEH (Short Elliot Hendrickson).  A resolution to hire SEH was passed by the Water Board, Board of Public Works and the Common Council.

May 2022 – Preliminary Design Begins
SEH and MWU staff began the preliminary design task with a kick-off meeting on May 24. 

July 2022 - Public Information Meeting 1
The first public information meeting and listening session was held at the Eagle Heights Community Center on July 6th.  The meeting began with a presentation by the design team, followed by a question and answer sessionAfterwards, the participants gathered at the well to tour the site and view potential locations for the building addition or new building.

September 2022 – Staff Recommends, Water Utility Board Approves Option 2 for Final Design
The design team developed two preliminary design options. Option 1 had the filtration system located within the existing building on a new platform over the booster pumping equipment. Option 2 had the filtration system housed in an addition to the existing building. Both options included the same new backwash tank, relocated driveway and landscaping plan. 

In its memo and presentation to the Water Board at the September 20th meeting, the design team outlined its reasons for recommending Option 2 be approved to move into final design.  After some discussion, the motion to approve Option 2 was unanimously passed by the Board. 

October 2022 - Public Information Meeting 2
The second public information meeting and listening session was held on site at municipal drinking water Well 19 on October 13. The meeting began with introductions, followed by a presentation from the design team. Meeting attendees were then given an opportunity to voice their thoughts about the project and ask any questions.  

December 2022 – City of Madison Plan Commission Approval
On December 12, 2022, the Plan Commission approved the conditional use request for the project. This approval allows the Utility to apply for a building permit for construction.