Water & Sewer
Water Industry Overview
The Division of Water, Compliance and Consumer Affairs (DWCCA) is responsible for the PSC’s regulation of water utilities. This oversight includes:
To carry out these duties, the division is made up of professional staff, including auditors/accountants, engineers, rate analysts and compliance specialists. Staff from the Energy Division assists with environmental issues related to water.
The Wisconsin water industry is comprised of more than 580 municipal water systems and eight privately-owned water systems.
Water systems are characterized by:
The PSC regulates both municipal and investor-owned water utilities in the state. While regulation of all Wisconsin water utilities is required, sewer utility regulation is voluntary on the part of the municipality. Investor-owned sewer utilities would be regulated, but none currently exist.
There are in excess of 600 sewer operations in Wisconsin. Of these, the PSC currently regulates less than 20 of them. These systems have elected to combine their water and sewer operations into a single public utility. For these systems, the PSC regulates rates and rules, practices and procedures, plant additions, service quality, etc. For the unregulated sewer systems, the local governing bodies are responsible the operations and the establishment of rates.
In Wisconsin, just over 40% of the water supply comes from surface water that is produced by approximately 20 municipalities. Surface water is usually softer than groundwater, meaning it has less minerals dissolved in the water. Soft water is desirable because it is easier on dishwashers, coffee machines, irons, humidifiers, showers, bathtubs and other appliances that use water.
The remaining water supply comes from groundwater through wells which are drilled to depths ranging from 30 to 3,000 feet. Shallow wells, usually found in sandy soils, are sensitive to contamination from chemicals dispersed on the ground in the vicinity of the wells. Nitrates from farm fertilization, volatile organic compounds from business processes and fuel spills are some of the contaminants that can seep through the ground and affect shallow wells.
Deep wells are not as affected by human activity on the surface. Water is a good solvent and picks up impurities easily. As water is drawn through deep wells, it dissolves small amounts of minerals and holds them in solution. This gives deep well water the property of hardness. Hard water is not a health hazard, but it can be a nuisance in various appliances that use water.
Water supply is generally not a problem in Wisconsin, but there are some areas in the state where the demand for water outstrips the ability of wells to recharge or replace the water used. Two such areas are the Brown County communities around Green Bay and the Waukesha area. Typically, the solution in these cases is to drill deeper to find more water. However, both of these areas are looking at surface water as a long-term answer to their problem.
Surface water treatment focuses on removing organic growth (microbiological animal and plant life). The treatment process can include the use of large settling basins, carbon filters, sand filters, micro filters, ozone and ultraviolet light. These processes require large capital investments. Surface water treatment is used primarily by systems with large populations located near large bodies of water.
Well water treatment typically includes the addition of chlorine for organic growth, fluoride for teeth and other chemical treatments tailored for the unique chemical makeup of the water of each well. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires utilities to treat for certain chemicals that can be carcinogenic, including lead, arsenic, copper, radon and radium.
The distribution system is the arrangement of pipes and equipment that supply water within a pressure range to the residences, businesses, industries and organizations of a community. It includes mains, service laterals, meters, pumps, motors, hydrants, reservoirs and towers. Water utilities maintain this system by exercising hydrants and valves, designing to minimize dead ends, doing periodic leak surveys, testing meters and replacing worn out equipment.