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

About the Project

Located on UW Madison property near the Eagle Heights student housing complex, Well 19 pumps 500 to 700 million gallons of water a year to the University and surrounding neighborhoods. It also supplies water for 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-occuring contaminants: iron, manganese and radium. 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) three times since 2011:

July 2011 - 5.8 pCi/L, Feb. 2015 - 5.3 pCi/L, Aug. 2019 - 5.9 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, combined radium levels at Well 19 have ranged from 3.4 to 4.9 pCi/L. Find out more about recent water quality testing at Well 19 in the Well 19 Testing Report.


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

A: 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 may 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 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 mostly likely consist of a number of large tanks and associated piping which may be housed in an addition to the existing building or in a separate structure. Whether an addition or a new building, the design will architecturally complement the existing building. Existing mature trees and other landscaping will preserved to the extent possible. The existing building footprint is approximately 2500 square feet; the new building or addition will approximately double that area.

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

Past Meetings/ Additional Information

April 25, 2017 - Water Utility Board Meeting 
The Water Utility Board gave approval for MWU staff to move forward with the project by issuing a Request for Proposal (RFP) to hire an engineering consulting firm to assist with design and construction of a treatment system; the RFP was issued in July.

September, 2017 - Consulting Firm Selected
MWU staff recommended hiring Strand Associates.

October 9, 2017 - Preliminary Meeting
MWU and UW Facilities Planning & Management staff met to discuss coordination and preliminary project issues

Fall 2017 – Winter 2018– Pilot Test Planning
Potential treatment options and testing protocol were considered for pilot testing. The process for gaining DNR approval for testing was begun.

Winter 2018 - Fall 2018 – Pilot Testing
On-site, small-scale testing of several different treatment systems was conducted to confirm that water quality objectives were met and determine the most cost-effective treatment system(s).

Winter 2019 – Pilot Test Report Completed
Pilot testing results were analyzed and treatment options were narrowed to the most effective alternatives. This report will inform the project planning when design begins in 2023.