DNR to Scale Back High Capacity Well Authority

In a move condemned by state conservation groups, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has decided to abide by Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel’s May 10 ruling that the DNR does not have authority to consider the cumulative effect of high capacity wells when issuing permits.

In his ruling, Schimel stated: “Neither Wis. Stat. 281 nor the public trust doctrine give DNR the authority to impose any condition not explicitly allowed in state statute or rule. In addition, no other authority exists which permits DNR to impose the conditions enumerated by the Assembly.”

Those who support diminished DNR powers include the state chamber of commerce, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, which has made the standard claim that DNR regulations create too much of a burden on business.

The DNR’s definition of a high capacity well is a system of one or more wells that have a combined pump capacity of 70 or more gallons per minute, or 100,000 gallons a day. They have increased exponentially with the growth of industrial farming in the state. The number of high capacity wells in the state rose 54 percent from 2000 to 2015, with 10,456 wells.

Last week the DNR added the following to the high capacity well page of its website: “As a result of the opinion, in addition to determining whether the proposed well meets well construction requirements, the DNR will review each high capacity well application to determine whether the proposed high capacity well:

  • is within a groundwater protection area (within 1,200 feet of a class 1, 2 or 3 trout stream or a designated outstanding or exceptional resource water);
  • may impact springs with flow greater or equal to one cubic foot per second;
  • will result in water loss greater than 95 percent;
  • will result in 10 or more feet of water level drawdown in the public utility well based on 30 days of continuous pumping from the proposed high capacity well or well system; and
  • will degrade safe drinking water and the groundwater resource or impact public safety.”

“This decision leaves as much as 90 percent of our lakes, rivers, streams and wetlands unprotected from the proven impacts of over-pumping from high capacity wells,” said Elizabeth Wheeler, senior staff attorney for Clean Wisconsin. “This is despite the fact that DNR heard from more than 500 people asking the agency to reject the AG’s opinion and continue to use sound natural resources science in reviewing these wells. Taking this action without any proactive notice to the public is especially egregious because so many people have been watching.”

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