Previous site-specific studies designed to assess the impacts of unsewered subdivisions on ground water quality have relied on upgradient monitoring wells or very limited background data to characterize conditions prior to development. In this study, an extensive monitoring program was designed to document ground water conditions prior to construction of a rural subdivision in south-central Wisconsin. Previous agricultural land use has impacted ground water quality; concentrations of chloride, nitrate-nitrogen, and atrazine ranged from below the level of detection to 296 mg/L, 36 mg/L, and 0.8 ??g/L, respectively, and were highly variable from well to well and through time. Seasonal variations in recharge, surface topography, aquifer heterogeneities, surficial loading patterns, and well casing depth explain observed variations in ground water chemistry. This variability would not have been detected if background conditions were determined from only a few monitoring wells or inferred from wells located upgradient of the subdivision site. This project demonstrates the importance of characterizing both ground water quality and chemical variability prior to land-use change to detect any changes once homes are constructed. Copyright ?? 2005 National Ground Water Association.