Commentary: Wisconsin Needs Certainty on High-Capacity Wells


John HolevoetBy John Holevoet, Director of Government Affairs, Dairy Business Association

Last month, the International Dairy Foods Association held its annual Dairy Forum in suburban Phoenix. Not only did the conference provide me great insights on the future of our industry, but the setting highlighted just how extreme some of the proposals for groundwater regulation in Wisconsin have been.

Phoenix is dry. There is water in the aquifer and you see the occasional green lawn, but make no mistake, Arizona’s water situation is nothing like ours. Even a drive to the higher elevation grassland does not remind you of the verdant green we experience for half the year here.

Yet, there are those within our state that would like to see groundwater withdrawals regulated in a manner far more severe than any laws in Arizona.

Given our rate of groundwater consumption and the annual recharge due to rain and snow, our resources are safe now and will be for the generations to come.

Even in areas where a high water table and tight connection between groundwater levels and surface waters have contributed to falling water levels in some lakes and streams, the aquifer levels are stable or rising.

There may be a few limited areas in the state that deserve more study and might even need a special regulatory framework, but that should not hold the rest of the state back from using our groundwater in a reasonable and productive way.

Our ready access to fresh water gives Wisconsin a competitive advantage in attracting new farms and other businesses that rely on water. We should be promoting this advantage, not regulating it out of existence.

Since the Wisconsin Supreme Court issued its Lake Beulah decision in 2011, approvals for high-capacity wells in our state have been mired in uncertainty. Finally, there is hope the situation will improve.

First of all, the DNR has been working to become more efficient in handling applications. More importantly, a recent court decision has favored a narrower view of the state Department of Natural Resources’ authority over these approvals.

This month, our legislative leaders asked the Wisconsin attorney general to issue an official opinion to further clarify how the approval process should work. That opinion will likely be out this spring.

Unfortunately, some so-called environmental groups have fought against even seeking guidance from the attorney general. Instead, they offer legislative “solutions,” which would enshrine the uncertainty of the past several years.

The dairy community in Wisconsin should not accept these false solutions. We must demand a predictable approval process.


The Dairy Business Association is a nonprofit organization comprised of Wisconsin dairy farmers, milk processors, vendors and business partners. John Holevoet can be reached by email at [email protected].

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