By Mark Redsten, Denny Caneff and Kerry Schumann
Tuesday, Sept. 8, brought us Protect your Groundwater Day, a national groundwater awareness day. And it couldn’t have come at a better time. In Wisconsin, lakes are drying up. Once beautiful waterfront property has become mudfront property. Neighbors are pitted against each other over the use of scarce water resources. These may sound like problems in drought-ravaged California, but they are happening right here in our state.
Over-pumping from high-capacity wells is drying up lakes, rivers and streams in Wisconsin, and it’s time for legislators to step up and provide solutions. When groundwater is depleted, all water users — businesses, municipalities, farmers, fishermen, boaters, waterfront property owners and more — pay the price. In fact, groundwater is the source of drinking water for 70 percent of Wisconsin citizens – you are probably drinking it right now. The problem is at crisis levels in central Wisconsin, where sandy soils require a lot of water to grow crops. But inadequate groundwater has also caused problems in Green Bay, Waukesha and areas of western Wisconsin dominated by water-intensive frac sand mines.
Current law in Wisconsin is inadequate, leaving 98 percent of our waters unprotected from over-pumping. Our state’s first groundwater protection laws were passed more than 10 years ago and since then, problems have gotten worse, with the demand for high-capacity wells growing by roughly 40 percent over the past few years alone. As the pumping has increased, streams, rivers, wetlands, even entire lakes, have begun to run dry.
Because the fight for groundwater resources has reached a fever pitch, legislators can no longer ignore the problem. This year, lawmakers have circulated two wildly differing proposals for managing groundwater in Wisconsin. One prioritizes a fair and balanced process and an adequate groundwater supply for all. The other essentially locks down our current unsustainable methods for permitting high-capacity wells.
Clean Wisconsin, Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters and River Alliance of Wisconsin favor a solution to this water crisis that protects our natural resources, but also recognizes the competing uses for water in our state. That balance is achievable. Because the Legislature has failed to address this issue, desperate homeowners have been left with no options other than to pool their own resources and take their cases to the courts, hoping that judges will recognize their basic right to an adequate water supply. But lawsuits alone won’t resolve water conflicts.
We need the Legislature to provide realistic solutions that protect all water users, from families to industries, and we know it can be done. Michigan and Minnesota have both established laws that protect their groundwater from overuse, and their agricultural economies remain as strong as ever. To achieve this, we urge the Legislature to establish a fair and balanced approach to groundwater management for Wisconsin.
Mark Redsten is president & CEO of Clean Wisconsin. Redsten can be reached at 608.251.7020, ext 12.
Kerry Schumann is executive director of Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters. Schumann can be reached at 608.208.1123.
Denny Caneff is executive director of River Alliance of Wisconsin. Caneff can be reached at 608.257.2424, ext 115.