A Republican legislator has introduced a bill to limit high-capacity well regulations that he says is meant to clear up uncertainty over the state Department of Natural Resource's authority.
The Wisconsin State Journal reported in Wednesday's editions that Sen. Neal Kedzie's proposal would require the DNR to make permitting decisions within two months of an application. The measure also would waive permit requirements for replacement wells, prohibit any new restrictions on well location and prohibit replacement well restrictions that are more stringent than rules governing the original well.
High-capacity wells, defined as wells that draw 100,000 gallons of water or more per day, have grown more contentious in Wisconsin as large farms and food processors push back against restrictions. Environmental groups and lake property owners want tighter rules, arguing high-capacity wells are sucking small central Wisconsin streams and lakes dry. Groups representing farm interests, including potato, vegetable and cranberry growers, counter tighter restrictions would cut yields and put them out of business.
The Senate Natural Resources Committee, which Kedzie chairs, held a public hearing on the bill Wednesday. Nine people spoke in favor; 15 spoke against it.
Kedzie, of Elkhorn, told the committee he introduced the bill to cement a package of regulations the Legislature passed in 2003 after international bottler Perrier proposed building a high-capacity well at the headwaters of a trout stream. The regulations allowed the DNR to protect trout streams and other important water resources from damage caused by pumping.
Perrier's plans fell through, but Kedzie said a 2011 state Supreme Court ruling created uncertainty about the extent of DNR's authority to limit high-capacity wells to protect other state waters. He said he introduced the bill "to expressly limit the authority of the DNR" and to "reaffirm the legislative intent" of the 2003 law.
Nick George of the Midwest Food Processors Association said the bill would ensure his industry is treated fairly. Todd Ambs, a former DNR water administrator, says DNR staff should be allowed to limit pumping to protect nearby groundwater.
"Why should we tie the hands of the science staff that we have entrusted to protect our natural resources," Ambs said.