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Why AB874 (SB239) is a terrible bill for groundwater, surface water, and public health:

1) It grants "forever permits" to Wisconsin's 3,000 existing high-capacity wells.  

Water resources are already hurting due to over-pumping from high-capacity wells, but this bill removes DNR's ability to address problem wells through permitting. 

Existing wells can be infinitely replaced, relocated, and reconstructed without any permits or DNR oversight, even if they wouldn't be approved today because they would harm water resources. 

Reconstructed wells don't need to comply with present-day standards: only the standards that were in place when the well was originally approved, which could be decades ago!

DNR will have no up-front oversight to make sure relocated or reconstructed wells are constructed safely, won't make people sick, and won't contaminate groundwater. 

Grandfathering in existing wells grandfathers the problems those wells are now causing!


2) It makes water Wisconsin's new "cash crop"

The bill allows high-capacity well approvals to automatically be transferred with the land when sold.

Private parties could buy land just for the ability to pump water and appropriate waters of the state

Commodification of water would be a major shift in Wisconsin law!


3) Problem wells could only be fixed through long, costly "enforcement" hearings.

Bill proponents say the DNR can still use existing enforcement procedures to address problem wells--but DNR has never used this authority.

​ Having forced a recent hearing through legal action, we can personally attest to the difficult, costly, and uncertain nature of this process.

It is far more prudent to address problems up front, rather than waiting for water to be ruined and holding a hearing later!  


Bill text, 

Hearing notice,

The groundwater bill that is purported to be the “least bad of the bad” is still bad... 

On Friday Representative Krug released an amendment to the original bill effectively replacing it, and after very little notice the Cowles / Krug bill goes to a public hearing on Wednesday.  Visit our Facebook page for up the minute details…


When:  Wednesday, Feb 10 at 11:00 AM

Where:  Assembly Parlor (2nd Floor West) of the State Capitol in Madison

Call or write your legislator today and tell them how important our waters are!

We don’t believe that accepting a bad bill is a good idea.  Once done, we will never get back to the protections that were once in place and that guaranteed healthy and abundant water for all citizens.  We need your voice to be heard by legislators across the entire state.

Here is our summary of the major points. And this is just the tip of the iceberg--the bill is long and complicated.

Major points: 

1) This bill limits when and how DNR can review the environmental impacts of a proposed well.  It allows (but doesn’t require) DNR to do an EA (environmental assessment) or EIS (environmental impact statement) for hi-cap wells that:

            - are within 1,200 feet of a navigable water or trout stream

            - will use more than 95% of water they withdraw

            - may have a significant environmental impact on a spring

 The bill does require environmental reviews for wells in sensitive resource areas (SRAs), a new term used to describe a particular geographic area.  But, as explained more below, how an SRA gets designated or the process to ensure its acceptance is very convoluted and open to political decisions and not scientific ones.


2) This bill limits DNR review and approval of new hi-cap wells in other ways that leaves our water vulnerable:

         -It limits the type of conditions DNR can impose on hi-cap wells to a few specific things (pumping rate, location, depth, flow rate, use, and a few others). Even simple monitoring conditions are not allowed.

         -The bill severely limits the situations where DNR can impose conditions 

         -It eliminates protections for wetlands and certain other waters of the state

         -The DNR can't impose permit conditions to protect a neighboring well owner!!  All it can do is impose conditions that require compensation to pay for a new well, if the neighboring well goes dry.  Even then, the neighboring well owner may have to go to court.


3) The bill allows "grandfathering" of existing wells, and makes it virtually impossible to use permitting to correct impacts to waters caused by older wells.  It . . .

        -doesn't require permits for reconstructed or replacement wells, just after-the-fact notice to DNR 

        -allows hi-cap well permits to be transferred with property. Western water law is coming to Wisconsin!

         -allows hi-cap well owners who got permits after the Lake Beulah decision (“on or after July 6, 2011”) to come in to DNR and have any permit conditions that are inconsistent with this new legislation removed (this is horrible!)

        -doesn’t allow DNR to impose amended permit conditions on wells that are impacting navigable waters unless a full contested case hearing is conducted and the hearing examiner orders changes [this has never happened].

         -Limits when hi-cap well approvals can be rescinded. 


4) Areas can be designated as "sensitive resource areas" that limit where new hi-cap wells can be located, but this process is long, complicated, and political. The planets would have to align for it to ever work.  

        -Some areas of Waushara County, Wood County, and Marquette County must be modeled and examined by DNR for potential designation as a "sensitive resource area," but the Legislature still has to approve the designation.  Other areas have to start from scratch, initiated by citizens who have to bear the burden to do science the DNR used to do.

       -The DNR must hold a public informational hearing and submit reports to DNR, which can be ignored since the Legislature has the ultimate power to create SRA.

       -The bill sets limits on how DNR can consider impacts to wells during the SRA designation process, and substitutes the Legislature's judgment on matters of science.  

        -The DNR can decide not to designate an area as an SRA, and their decision is not reviewable in court or by an administrative law judge. This may be a major weak point of this legislation, especially given a political climate in which the DNR is “managed” by outside forces…hmm, sort of like we have now.

        -Cumulative impacts are required to be considered in SRAs, and hi-cap wells can be challenged for failure to correctly consider cumulative impacts in SRAs.

        -The need for and borders of an SRA must be reviewed every 10 years. 


5) Show me the money!  This bill doesn’t appropriate any new money or staffing to DNR to allow it to effectively carry out this work at a time when the agency has lost funding and most of its scientific staff and is terribly overworked, understaffed, underfunded and politically managed.


It has been a busy year with more to come...

With several bad bills moving through the legislature at year’s end, 2016 promises to be a difficult one when it comes to protecting our waters.  We will post news and events such as public hearings on Facebook so stay tuned.

For now, these are the bills we are watching:

AB600 / SB459– Senator Frank Lasee and Rep. Jarchow

A direct threat to current Wisconsin water law that would shorten the list of waters protected by the Public Trust Doctrine and allows for significant development activities that impair our waters.

SB239 – Senator Gudex

Allows for existing wells to continue under its original permit forever without any review or regardless of changing conditions.

SB72 and AB105 – Senator Miller and Rep. Mason

The best of the bunch it takes a more appropriate approach to ground water management, but being a Democratic bill, doesn’t have a chance unfortunately.

With the exception of Miller / Mason, we at Friends of the Central Sands cannot support these bills as written.

Let’s do all we can to see that these bill don't see the light of day!  Contact your representative today.  You can find your representatives here:

We have a Victory!

Judge Rules DNR Must Consider Cumulative Impacts in Issuing High-Capacity Well Permits

But the DNR is continuing to play a game...

The DNR issued a modified WPDES permit (waste spreading) to the Richfield CAFO without taking into consideration the Judge’s comments in our successful appeal.  You may recall that Judge Boldt’s decision in the WPDES portion of our appeal discussed our request for an Animal Unit cap, i.e. a cap on the number of animal units (cows) Richfield Dairy can put on its property.  This effectively limits the waste the facility can generate.  Judge Boldt agreed a cap was appropriate, and further said: “The Department should establish a sustainable cap on animal units in conjunction with the revised permit reducing the maximum annual pumping in the companion high-capacity well cases.”   Richfield Dairy originally applied for 6,270 Animal Units (AU) or about 4,550 cows and steers.  Well to us this was pretty clear.  Less water = less animals.  After Judge Boldt’s decision came down, Richfield Dairy still asked for 6,270 Animal Units.  Friends of the Central Sand's legal counsel protested to the DNR that this number was too high, given the reduced 52.5 million gallons per year (MGPY) pumping limit, and argued that a cap of 4,279 AU was appropriate based on the dairy’s own documentation.    Well, the DNR has decided to modify the WPDES permit and include a cap of 6,270 AU—just what Richfield Dairy asked for.  The draft permit is here. They did not provide strong justification for their decision, so FOCS legal counsel contacted DNR staff directly.   Our legal counsel was told that the DNR didn’t believe that Judge Boldt actually required the AU number to be tied to the pumping limit.  We obviously disagree.  It’s pretty clear from Judge Boldt’s own words that he intended the AU cap to be tied to the pumping limit, that he wanted DNR to attempt this analysis, and that the expectation was that the AU limit would be lower as a result of the pumping limit.  The DNR couldn’t set a random AU cap and let the Dairy determine how to comply with the pumping limit.

We have requested the Judge to rule on whether this complies with his order.


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


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