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Judge Rules DNR Must Consider Cumulative Impacts in Issuing High-Capacity Well Permits
Coloma – An administrative law judge issued a decision this week finding that the DNR must consider the cumulative impacts of groundwater pumping when considering new high-capacity well permits.
The ruling came in a case brought by Friends of the Central Sands (FOCS) and others challenging a well permit for the proposed Richfield Dairy concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) in Adams County. The DNR had said it lacked authority to take the impacts of existing and future wells into account when issuing new high-capacity well permits.
The judge found that the DNR “took an unreasonably limited view of its authority,” and that the public trust doctrine, statutes, and decades of court precedent required DNR to consider cumulative impacts. The decision continued, “It is scientifically unsupported, and impossible as a practical matter, to manage water resources if cumulative impacts are not considered.”
“It is common sense that the DNR must consider cumulative impacts of groundwater pumping before allowing another well,” said Bob Clarke, Founder of FOCS. “This decision recognizes that science and the law compel consideration of cumulative impacts, too.”
The decision comes at a critical time, as studies have shown surface water levels are dropping in the Central Sands area due to high-capacity well pumping, primarily for irrigation. Evidence presented at a hearing showed water resources near the proposed CAFO were already pumping-impacted, including Pleasant Lake, wetlands, and numerous Class 1 and 2 rated trout streams.
Yet the DNR has seen record numbers of well permit applications in recent years.
“For years, we have failed to consider the consequences to our water resources when allowing new high-capacity wells,” said Bill Vance, a home owner on Pleasant Lake. “This decision recognizes that the DNR must do the math and consider how much is too much.”
This week’s decision caps a process that began in 2011, when Richfield Dairy first applied for a high-capacity well permit. Court decisions in 2012 and 2013 had determined the DNR’s analysis of the well application was flawed. This week’s decision comes after three weeks of hearing, where experts testified on the existing and projected impacts to water resources.
The judge’s decision reduced the allowable amount of water the dairy may pump in one year. In a companion case, the administrative law judge determined the DNR should have established a cap on the number of animals that may be confined at the CAFO.
What is happening to our water?
See these short commercials produced by FOCS
Not Standing Still: The Degradation of Wisconsin's Water
A short film by FOCS depicting the loss of water in Wisconsin's Central Sands