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Environmentalist: High-Capacity Wells are Draining Wisconsin’s Lakes

Environmentalists say many of Wisconsin's small, clean streams are drying up because of high-capacity wells used to provide water for huge factory farms. (USGS-WI)
Environmentalists say many of Wisconsin's small, clean streams are drying up because of high-capacity wells used to provide water for huge factory farms. (USGS-WI)
June 8, 2016

COLOMA, Wis. - As some of the lakes and streams in central Wisconsin are being drawn down or even disappearing, environmentalists are urging the Department of Natural Resources to exercise caution in approving high-capacity wells.

The wells typically are used to provide water for the large factory farms that are beginning to proliferate in Wisconsin.

Bob Clarke is board president of Friends of the Central Sands. He says high-capacity wells are causing huge changes in the surface water, with lakes and streams disappearing.

"That's the kind of thing that is happening around lakes in the central sands: Long Lake, Huron Lake, Fish Lake, even our lake, Pleasant Lake, our lake is down several feet," says Clarke. "Some lakes are virtually gone as a result of all the increase of high-capacity wells."

Clarke takes particular issue with a recent Attorney General's Opinion, which Clarke says limits the authority of the DNR to apply more stringent tests before a high-capacity well can be permitted.

The Attorney General says the DNR does not have to consider the impact of pumping-induced changes to lake and stream levels, because it's not written into Wisconsin law.

Clarke and others say natural resources cannot be managed if the cumulative impact of high-capacity wells is not taken into account.

Clarke and others believe the DNR should have the authority to limit the wells under state doctrine that says the DNR is a guardian of the public trust. He says it's all about balancing the needs of commerce with the rights of individuals.

"There has to be a balance with existing farms and existing property rights; property rights of owners around water bodies - lakes, wetlands, streams," Clarke says. "There is a number of issues at stake here, in terms of how the DNR approves high-capacity wells across the state."

Clarke says the Attorney General's Opinion is silent on the issue of balance, and that water resources in many parts of the state are already stressed by existing high-capacity wells.

He says permitting new wells with no regard to their overall impact will make the problem worse.

Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI