think about this?
Wisconsin is all about water! Three of our borders are made up of it, we
drink it, ski on it, and even after it freezes we fish and skate on it. We
love water so much in Wisconsin that we are home to the Waterpark Capitol of
the World and the first, second, and seventeenth largest freshwater lakes in
the United States. Wisconsin is home to 15,074 lakes making Minnesota’s
“Land of 10,000 Lakes” slogan look as small and weak as the Minnesota
Vikings offensive line.
In Wisconsin, water and its usage have always been overseen by the Department
of Natural Resources (DNR). Part of this oversight by the DNR has been
reviewing and issuing permits for high capacity wells.
High capacity wells, are wells with the ability to pump 70 or more gallons
of water a minute. While
many associate high capacity wells with farms, most don’t realize that the
majority of high capacity wells are owned and operated by municipalities to
provide city water. Also, many other businesses, our state’s economic
engine, need high capacity wells too: construction, electric power
generation, tourism, manufacturing, fire departments for large fires and
In 2011, the
Wisconsin State Supreme Court issued a decision that blew the permitting
process for high capacity wells out of the water. The court’s
Beulah Management District vs Wisconsin DNR
decision stated that the DNR had the authority to require the environmental
review process for all high capacity well permit applications, including
those for replacement, reconstruction, and transfer of ownership of existing
high capacity well permits. Then, in 2016 Wisconsin Attorney General Brad
clarifying the DNR’s authority regarding the issuance of high capacity well
With so many
rulings, opinions, and interpretations of Wisconsin’s laws out there, the
legislature decided to introduce a bill that clarifies Wisconsin’s high
capacity well laws –
76 (SB 76)
and companion bill
105 (AB 105).
The bill allows for the repair, reconstruction, or replacement of an
existing DNR approved high capacity well by allowing owners to replace a
failing well as long as the new well is within a 75 feet radius, at the same
depth, and complies with the permit requirements for the original high
capacity well. This provides certainty and stability for our existing high
capacity well users. Generational farms, electric power generators, cities,
villages, towns, and manufacturers shouldn’t be mired in government red tape
for a well that was already permitted.
Marathon, Marquette, Portage, Shawano, Waupaca, Waushara, and Wood Counties
comprise the Central Sands area of Wisconsin.
Some in the area are concerned that there are too many high
capacity wells, and existing wells are causing water and lake levels to
lower. More scientific data is needed and SB 76/AB 105 takes that step by
specifically authorizing the DNR to study the interaction between
groundwater and surface water within the Central Sands area. It also
requires new, reconstructed, or replaced high capacity wells located in the
Central Sands area to install a water usage meter and provide the data to
the DNR. This study and data will help the DNR and legislature to form
evidence based policy and legislation in the future.
On March 15th, the high cap well bill was heard in a joint legislative
committee. It was a long day; however, I appreciated hearing everyone’s
citizens spoke or registered in favor, 144 citizens spoke or registered in
opposition). It’s a
complicated issue and folks are very passionate on both sides. Ultimately,
this bill is needed and we passed it in committee by a 3-2 vote this past
Tuesday. Last session, I was on the committee that heard the bill then. So
this is the second go around for me.
As a member of the committee, I support SB 76
because I believe it provides certainty and stability for high capacity well
users, while allowing for the monitoring and study of one of our most
important resources. There will be more legislation needed in the future,
yet SB 76 serves as a good starting point in protecting Wisconsin water and
allowing that same water to help Wisconsin’s economy grow.
Don’t forget Tuesday, April 4th is Spring General Election Day in
Wisconsin. To find information on how to register to vote, see where your
poll is located, or to view what will be on your ballot, visit My Vote