Damakant Jayshi

Wausau Council members this week authorized another $80,000 in funding to procure water pitchers after exhausting supplies early on in the effort to provide clean drinking water to residents.

But the amount Wausau spent on each case of bottled water and how the supplies were procured so far remain murky. City officials have not responded to multiple emails from Wausau Pilot & Review requesting a cost breakdown. An April 1 email from a reader who asked city officials the same question showed Wausau initially spent $4,770 for 600 cases of water, or $7.95 per case delivered by Mid Wisconsin Beverage. The cost of delivery was not specified.

By comparison, a case of 24 bottles of water at Festival Foods in Wausau from April 4 through today is $5.99, while a 45-bottle package of water at Sam’s Club is $4.42.

The council on Tuesday deemed that the need for alternate drinking water supplies meets the standard of a public emergency, allowing the city to sidestep typical procurement procedures. The Finance Committee also approved the funding at a meeting held just prior to that of the City Council.

Wausau already used or about to exhaust $150,000 to buy a mix of bottled water and in-home filtration systems, funds that were approved early last month. That sum was allocated from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). City staffers were tasked with determining an appropriate product mix of between bottled water and individual filtration solution to meet the “temporary needs” of residents.

Mayor Katie Rosenberg said they have had more than 6,000 requests for pitchers and the additional funding will help address that demand. Earlier, during the Finance Committee discussion Tuesday, Mayor Rosenberg told the committee they frequently ran out of bottled water whenever it was made available. So the idea was to encourage residents to go for pitchers, she added.

Alder Lisa Rasmussen also supported purchasing pitchers over bottles, saying they want to focus the shift from bottled water to pitchers “because the pitcher is reusable and more sustainable for the environment” because less plastic is coming into the system. She noted that Wausau is seeking a long-term solution to the drinking water problem.

Wausau deployed multiple efforts after a range of PFAS were detected in all of the city’s wells. In addition to proving short-term solutions, the City Council authorized a pilot study on PFAS removal and is also considering hiring a firm to remove PFAS from the city’s drinking water supply system.

The city conducted voluntary testing of all municipal drinking water supply wells for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, and detected the chemicals at levels ranging from 23 to 48 parts per trillion (ppt). The levels exceed the proposed Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) future drinking water standard of 20 ppt, a level based on recommendations from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS). All Wausau wells were above DHS recommendations, prompting the city to provide bottled water and filter pitchers to residents. Though the DNR does not currently set a drinking water standard, the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to set limits as early as this fall of 20 ppt or below.

To compound the problem, the Drinking Water Treatment Facility, which is set to open this summer at a cost of about $120 million would be unable to remove the PFAS chemicals from the city’s drinking water system under its current design, though officials say that capability will be added, at additional expense.

Pitchers can be requested by filling out this form. Residents who already requested pitchers will be notified when additional supplies are procured.