On Wednesday, April 5 the Wisconsin state senate handed a bill to the state assembly which, if passed, will allow repair, replacement, or change in ownership of high-capacity wells without state approval.
According to the Wisconsin DNR website, “Wisconsin Administrative Code defines a high capacity well system as one or more wells, drillholes or mine shafts on a property that have a combined approved pump capacity of 70 or more gallons per minute.”
Currently, the DNR has the opportunity to review the approval of high capacity wells anytime a new one is applied for, repairs need to be made, or property containing such a well system is sold or bought.
If the bill is passed, high capacity wells would effectively be a permanent feature of property, unless the intended use of the well changes.
George Kraft, professor of water resources at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and director of the Center for Watershed Science and Education, said this feature of the bill raises some red flags for himself and many others.
“Anytime we pump water out of the ground, there’s less in the aquifer so water levels are lower and there’s less that is able to feed streams and lakes because they are connected to groundwater,” Kraft said.
Kraft’s concerns regard the demonstrable harm that has been repeatedly linked to excessive use of Wisconsin’s water resources.
One local example of the effects of high-capacity wells on water levels is the Little Plover River, which has dried up several times since 2005.
On Monday April 10, the Wisconsin Geological & Natural History Survey and the U.S. Geological Survey published a study which confirmed previous studies linking the depletion of the river to high capacity wells.
The current problems associated with high-capacity wells were also well predicted, according to Kraft.
“In 1959 there was talk about doing something to manage high-capacity wells, the legislature kicked the can down the road at that time. We also had these 1965 and 1971 studies saying ‘there’s going to be a problems if we don’t get ahead of this,’” Kraft said.
The number of high-capacity wells currently operational in the central sands region is said to be over 3000. In 1950, there were around 100, according to wisconsinwatch.org.
Supporters of the bill are generally understood to have agricultural interests and say that farmers need to be able to rely on their water supply to keep the industry running well.