High-Cap Wells Highlighting Competition For Groundwater


Homeowners, industries and farms are competing for limited supplies of groundwater in Wisconsin’s Central Sands region, near Stevens Point.

The contention has come to the point where surface water is also being affected. The Department of Natural Resources says it will take up to two years to complete a state and federal study of topics like high-capacity wells, which can pump about 70 gallons a minute out of the ground.

DNR board member Christine Thomas told a board meeting Wednesday that the amount of time needed to finish the study is frustrating. “Honestly,” she said, “I know they’re doing a study, but two years? With 400 of these things going in every year?” Thomas continued, “I’m not opposed to them going in: it’s how many and where.”

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DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp says she wishes the study had started earlier. “This is something that’s been bubbling up, for lack of a better term, for several years now. It’s something we’re taking very seriously, and nothing happens as fast as I would ever want it to, in the things that we have to do here in the DNR.”

DNR staff say they’re trying to find out what level of groundwater use would sustain local surface waters and agribusiness. Board member Thomas says solutions are needed. “People are going to start battling over this stuff. It’s going to get ugly. And I think it would be really great if we could figure out how to avoid the ugly.”

A DNR water official says the battles have already started. 70 percent of state residents count on ground water for drinking water, and the DNR is approving more of the high capacity wells.