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GOP Legislators Look To Weaken DNR On High-Capacity Wells

rotary irrigation outside Beloit
A rotary irrigation system outside Beloit, Wisc. Photo: OldOnliner (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Republican state lawmakers are weighing a plan that would roll back the power of the Department of Natural Resources to regulate high capacity wells in Wisconsin.

The plan would effectively overturn part of the recent Lake Beulah State Supreme Court decision that found the DNR has the power to consider the cumulative effects of high capacity wells on the lakes and streams of Wisconsin. Elkhorn Republican Sen. Neal Kedzie says it was never the legislature’s intent to give the DNR that power. He says this bill clears things up: “It provides clarity as to the legislative intent of what the authority of the DNR is and should be.”

Backing Kedzie’s plan is most of the agricultural lobby, especially in Wisconsin’s Central Sands region. Potato and vegetable farmer Steve Derks says high capacity wells makes his farm work. “Without irrigation, our crop production would fall, and in drought years like 2012, we probably wouldn’t have a crop.”

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But UW hydrogeologist George Kraft says the trouble with going back to the old law is that it wasn’t doing much to protect lakes and streams. “I don’t foresee a case where we are going to run out of water, but quite seriously, we may dry up every lake and stream in the Central Sands.”

And Kedzie’s bill worries other property owners in the Central Sands region, like Gail Kretschmer, who say their concerns should be considered, not just the concerns of big farmers. “I don’t blame them at all for wanting to pass their farm on down to the third, fourth and fifth generation, because that is pride and that is hard work and that is an accomplishment,” Kretschmer said, “but you know what? Every citizen in Saratoga and many of us want to be able to transfer our property someday, too. We want to be able to give it to our children, too.”

The plan appears to be moving quickly through the legislature, though a similar effort was taken out of the state budget last year.