Environmental Group Challenges High Capacity Well Permits in WI

Posted: November 1, 2016

One of the state’s most active environmental groups has filed nine legal challenges Friday against the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources over the agency’s recent granting of high-capacity well permits, mainly in the Central Sands region in central Wisconsin. Clean Wisconsin says the lawsuits are in response to the DNR’s decision to rely on the opinion of Attorney General Brad Schimel stating the DNR lacks the authority to review the individual and cumulative effects of high capacity irrigation wells on nearby waterbodies.

In nine petitions filed in Dane County Circuit Court on Friday, the group argued the DNR’s failure to review of cumulative impacts violates the agency’s obligation to protect the natural resources entrusted to the agency by the citizens of Wisconsin. The Pleasant Lake Management District is co-petitioner on one of the nine petitions.

The petitions note that the DNR’s own scientists and staff experts raised concerns about the direct substantial impacts these high capacity well permits would have on the wetlands, stream flows, groundwater, and ecology of the surrounding landscape, including Pleasant Lake, Round Lake, Radley Creek, Lake Emily and Rice Lake.

As Wisconsin Ag Connection reported in June, the DNR revised its policies regarding high- capacity well applications after Schimel issued an opinion on the issue in May, which concluded that the DNR does not have the legal right to regulate such wells based on how they could potentially affect nearby bodies of water. The issue was brought to light after the DNR placed a condition on a large dairy farm’s permit that required on-going groundwater monitoring to make sure the operation’s large withdrawals of water didn’t affect local water tables.

Various farm organizations in Wisconsin praised Schimel’s conclusions last summer, stating that the opinion makes clear that state agencies have only those powers delegated to them by statute or an administrative rule. But environmental groups say the change leaves state waters vulnerable and unprotected from over-pumping.

High-capacity wells are defined as wells that can pump at least 70 gallons of water per minute.

Reprinted from Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Grower’s newsletter

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