Your help is needed! Please contact your state senator and representative and ask them to support legislation to address high capacity wells. Here’s why.
High capacity wells and their impact on groundwater were a hot topic of discussion at Ag Day at the Capitol in March. I wrote a column for Rural Route in April that explained the need for new groundwater legislation. Months later it remains a complex and unresolved issue that needs legislative attention this fall. Persistence gets things done in politics. We cannot let up on this issue.
A quick review of the situation: Current law requires a person to obtain approval from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) before constructing a high capacity well. Its definition is a well and all other wells on the same property that together have the capacity to withdraw more than 100,000 gallons of water per day.
Due to a 2011 State Supreme Court decision, the DNR is conducting an extensive environmental review for all high capacity well permit applications. This includes an application to replace an existing well, reconstruct an existing well or transfer the ownership of the well to another person as part of a land purchase.
Prior to the 2011 State Supreme Court decision, the DNR used the more extensive environmental review process for new high capacity wells that met one of the following conditions:
• May impact the water supply of a public water utility.
• May impact an outstanding resource water body or an exceptional resource water body.
• Is to be used to withdraw water for bottling purposes.
• May impact larger scale springs.
Since 2011, there is no clear process for farmers, businesses or any other person for that matter, to work with the DNR to get high capacity well permits approved. Now it’s done on a case by case basis.
This concerns Wisconsin farmers for a number of reasons. If you have an existing well that needs repair or replacement, you may be able to get the approval, but your pumping capacity could be lowered. The same thing could apply to someone purchasing farmland that has a high capacity well. The new owner could have the pumping capacity lowered by the DNR.
Imagine asking your lender for a loan to purchase farmland with an existing high capacity well. What is the financial impact of a farm’s value with pumping capacity reduced?
Building a new high capacity well also is a thorny issue. According to the DNR, more than 150 high capacity well permits await action but are not being issued because of the court’s decision to require extensive environmental reviews of each application. This doesn’t take into consideration all of the farmers who are not applying for new high capacity well permits in fear that the DNR will lower pumping capacities for other wells on their farms.
So whether you are a potato and vegetable farmer in the central sands, a dairy farmer near Green Bay or a cash grain farmer near La Crosse, your ability to use water is in jeopardy. Not because the DNR is unreasonable, but rather because of a court ruling.
Only the Legislature can fix this. That’s why your legislators need to hear from farmers about the need to pass high capacity well legislation before this opportunity dries up.
Paul is the Executive Director of Governmental Relations for the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation. He joined the Wisconsin Farm Bureau in 1994.