Friends of Central Sands
Your Subtitle text
Follow us!  

Policy Alerts

Get the latest news from across Wisconsin - Stay informed on news that affects you and see how you can make a difference!

>> Take Action


FOCS is active in several projects around the Central Sands region. Click here to read more about how your support makes this possible!

>> Our Work 

Get decked out in FOCS gear!

Invitation only special events and great FOCS gear... donate and get yours today!       

  >> Support Us 

Dear Friends... Here we go again! 

In what seems to be a never ending game, the ground water bill that we warned you about in February has found new life and is headed for a hearing.  This bill, authored by Senator Gudex and co-sponsored by Senator Moulton (SB 239) basically grandfathers in all high capacity wells shielding them from the ground water protections for which we worked so hard in court.  The bill will be heard by the Senate Agricultural Committee.  Not the Natural Resources Committee?  No, not by the committee that would actually make sense. 

Why the odd choice for a committee you might ask?

This bill should have been to referred to the Senate Natural Resource Committee, chaired by Senator Robert Cowles (R), who is generally open minded about groundwater issues.  Similarly, Senator Luther Olsen (R) has in the past been open to discussions about this issue. Senator Mark Miller (D ), and friend to groundwater, is also on that committee.  

The Senate Agricultural committee is chaired by Moulton (R), who is co-sponsoring this legislation, and Senator Tom Tiffany, (R) who has historically been the environment's most ardent foe in the legislature.  From our vantage point the overall makeup of the Agricultural committee is much more favorable to this harmful bill.  

In the meantime the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation is calling on all members to contact their legislators to support this very bad water bill!  Which is why you need to contact your representatives and senator now and ask them NOT to support SB 239.

You can find your representatives here:

The legislators outside of the Central Sands need to hear from you so that they understand that this is bad for everyone. 

The best thing to happen would be for the non-central sands legislators to hear from their constituents… don’t underestimate the importance of this.

Why this is a terrible bill for groundwater:

As written, except for requiring that the DNR be notified, this bill allows current well owners to do a number of things without any DNR approval.

1. Repair and maintain the existing high capacity well. 2. Construct a new high capacity well to replace the existing high capacity well if the replacement high capacity well will be drilled to substantially the same depth as the existing high capacity well, will be located within a 75−foot radius of the existing high capacity well, and will be constructed in accordance with department standards that apply to the construction of new high capacity wells on the date that construction of the replacement high capacity well begins. 3. Reconstruct the existing high capacity well based on standards in place when the well was constructed. 4. Transfer the approval, concurrent with transferring the land on which the approved high capacity well is located, to the person to whom the land is transferred.

While the first point isn't necessarily a problem, points 2, 3, and 4 are.  

Points 2 and 3 are the heart of the bill's grandfathering provisions.  They allow wells to be infinitely replaced and reconstructed without any permits or DNR oversight, even if they wouldn't be approved today because they would harm water resources. 

The bill does state current standards must be followed for well replacement, it's not clear if this includes standards imposed by case law, such as the Lake Beulah decision, which established the DNR’s authority to consider and avoid adverse impacts to all waters of the state when permitting wells.  Current standards do not need to be followed at all for well reconstruction.

The old, pre Lake Beulah decision, standards were not effective to protect surface water resources.  Capacity was seldom limited, so the only pumping limits were essentially the capacity of the pump.  Most of these pumps can move A LOT of water.  Wells weren't located with any regard to nearby water resources, which is why so many wells were sited immediately next to a stream.  This bill would give the DNR no ability to address the location of these problem wells through permitting.  Therefore, when later portions of the bill state that regardless of whether a repair or relocation occurs, the well must comply with the old standards, it provides very little (if any) protection for water resources.

This bill also threatens public health.  Setting aside water supply issues, DNR approvals for reconstructed or relocated wells make sure wells follow technical requirements for construction.  This bill allows wells to be reconstructed using standards in place at the time of their original construction--even if it was in the 1950s or 1960s.  It also removes DNR permitting oversight to make sure wells that are relocated or reconstructed are constructed safely, won't make people sick, and won't contaminate groundwater.

While the bill removes DNR permit authority, the DNR theoretically retains its enforcement authority under this bill.  However, this authority is almost never used and is like having no regulation at all.  Having forced a recent hearing through legal action we can personally attest to the difficult nature of this process. It is far more prudent to address problems up front at the permitting level rather than waiting for problems to emerge and holding a hearing.  

We also question, as a legal matter, if the Legislature could even prohibit the DNR from doing a Lake Beulah-style review when an existing well is reconstructed or replaced.  Surface waters affected by groundwater pumping are indisputably covered by the Public Trust Doctrine which the DNR has authority to administer.  The DNR must have the ability to look at the evidence and act if a problem is found.  This bill will likely spur litigation that could be avoided through better drafting. 

Finally, point #4 allows well permit ownership to be repeatedly transferred.  By allowing water pumping rights to be bought and sold, we could be on our way to Western-style water law.  Water should not be a commodity!  

We at Friends of the Central Sands cannot support this bill as written.

If the DNR doesn’t have authority to deal with wells that are pumping too much water, there will be more lawsuits like this against municipalities, farmers, and industries with high-capacity wells.


Let’s do all we can to see that this bill doesn’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 playing is a game...

The DNR is poised to issue 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 tentatively 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.





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


Website Builder