UW Extension

Wisconsin Groundwater Monitoring Network: 70 years and counting

Mike Parsen checks stream gage.

Mike Parsen, WGNHS hydrogeologist, checking stream levels.

The Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey (WGNHS) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) have jointly operated Wisconsin’s statewide groundwater monitoring network since 1946, working in close cooperation with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR). Mike Parsen, a hydrogeologist at WGNHS, manages this project.

As of June 2016, the network had 93 long-term monitoring wells, two spring gaging stations, and 57 short-term monitoring wells. The permanent wells and spring gaging stations are located in 45 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties. This network provides a consistent, long-term record of groundwater levels throughout the state.

Parsen says, “Water levels collected from these wells help scientists and administrators manage the groundwater resource. They can evaluate effects of well pumping, the response of groundwater levels to drought or increased precipitation, and effects of land-use change on groundwater resources.” Scientists also use this information in groundwater flow models.

The total number of monitoring wells in the network has decreased from its peak of 270 in the mid-1950s. However, WGNHS, USGS and WDNR are increasing efforts to repair existing wells and expand monitoring.

For more information, the WGNHS provides a general overview of the monitoring network.

Spring gaging station downstream from Scuppernong Springs (Kettle Moraine State Forest, Southern Unit). Photo by Mike Parsen.

One of two spring gaging stations in the groundwater monitoring network. This station is located in the southern unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest, downstream from Scuppernong Springs. (Photo by Mike Parsen.)