Natural Resource Managers Stand to Gain More Authority over High-Capacity Wells
4/13/2004 -- Madison, Wis. -- After a nearly unanimous mid-March vote in both houses of the Wisconsin legislature, state natural resource managers will receive greater regulatory authority over wells that pump 100,000 gallons or more per day – pending the approval of the governor.
The legislation comes four years after the Perrier Group of America announced, and eventually withdrew, a proposal to place a controversial high-capacity well next to the headwaters of Wisconsin’s Mecan River, a storied trout stream. Perrier’s proposal drew the ire and fierce opposition from Trout Unlimited members and state council, who also played significant roles in the crafting of the 2004 Groundwater Protection Act.
“Although the bill doesn’t go as far as we wanted, it is a major step forward,” said Jeff Smith, Legislative Chair of the Trout Unlimited (TU) Wisconsin Council and appointee to the Groundwater Drafting Committee, a panel representing wide-ranging interests that guided the act’s crafting. “Our current laws to protect groundwater are insufficient because they only give the Department of Natural Resources authority to regulate high-capacity wells if they affect municipal wells. But many, many other resources merit strong protection.”
Trout streams, Exceptional and Outstanding Resource Waters, and large springs will all receive new safeguards upon the bill’s final passage. The bill establishes a 1,200-foot Groundwater Protection Area around these resources, where a well permit application will receive a more stringent DNR review. The bill also contains provisions to mitigate any environmental damages caused by existing wells within these zones.
In two areas of the state that already have suffered large drawdowns of groundwater, the bill establishes Groundwater Management Areas with state-supported, locally led planning bodies that aim to make groundwater use and management driven by sustainability.
Finally, the bill creates an important advisory committee, which will report in 2006 on the effectiveness of the legislation, and issue suggestions on necessary improvements.
“The bill’s not perfect, but it is a big gain for Wisconsin’s waters,” said Steve Born, former Chair of the TU Wisconsin Council and National Resource Board. “It’s the result of a bipartisan, open process that involved lots of compromises, but it allows our laws to adapt as we learn more about how best to manage our resources.”
Mission: Trout Unlimited is North America’s leading coldwater fisheries conservation organization, dedicated to the conservation, protection and restoration of trout and salmon fisheries and their watersheds. The organization has more than 130,000 members, including more than 3,800 in Wisconsin.