Nine high-capacity wells have recently been approved in central Wisconsin. The wells are used for irrigation for agriculture in the area, but high capacity wells are controversial due to their high usage of water.
High-capacity wells pump more than 100,000 gallons of groundwater every day.
According to the Wisconsin Administrative Code, “a high capacity well system has one or more wells, drill holes or mine shafts on a property that have a combined approved pump capacity of 70 or more gallons per minute.”
Many fear that the wells will drain the water table.
Sections of the Little Plover River first dried up in the summer of 2005 and the river has periodically been drying up ever since. Entire lakes in the area have dried up in recent years as well. Many point fingers at the central Wisconsin agricultural industry’s use of water for irrigation as the cause.
The high-capacity wells are usually needed to supplement the large water demand of farms.
Central Wisconsin’s agriculture is heavily based on potatoes. The crop demands a lot of water which the sandy soil found in this part of the state cannot efficiently hold onto.
The water drains away, limiting the amount of water available to the plant. As a result, farmers turn to irrigation which needs high-capacity wells.
Adam Kamal, senior biology major, said, “I think it’s really irresponsible to use water like that here in Wisconsin. It’s detrimental to the entire habitat which is already under stress of urbanization, and from other water usages like city water.”
Clean Wisconsin is an organization which aims to protect and preserve Wisconsin’s clean water, air and natural heritage. The group has filed a lawsuit against the DNR in response to the recent deregulation of high-capacity well approvals.
The lawsuit has challenged the authority of the DNR to permit the wells. This is done in order to prevent the water table from being lowered.
Clean Wisconsin claims that high-capacity wells which have been awaiting DNR review will no longer get an effective environmental review process as was previously required to receive a permit for a high-capacity well.
The DNR has placed criteria on which well applications are reviewed. The review process looks at the potential well’s implications on trout streams, springs with water flow greater than one cubic foot per second, water loss, drinking water and public safety.
Well applications which meet the criteria will be reviewed. Any approval must “ensure the well does not result in significant adverse environmental impacts and may require preparation of an environmental impact statement.”
Clean Wisconsin believes the DNR is not enforcing their own statues of preventing water loss, therefore threatening the public use of water in the State.
The Wisconsin DNR has been limited on staff due to state budget cuts, therefore the review process has gotten less strict. State legislation has not made it easy for the DNR to regulate.
According to a release from May 2016, Wisconsin’s Attorney General said the “DNR does not have explicit authority to consider cumulative impacts or to impose monitoring requirements on high capacity well approvals.”
After the recent election of Patrick Testin over Julia Lassa, who was a strong supporter of restricting the number of high-capacity wells in the central sands area, many are uncertain of the future of central Wisconsin’s groundwater.
If Clean Wisconsin wins the lawsuit, the DNR will repeal the recent permits given for the high-capacity wells.