Senate Bill 302 would scale back protections for lakes, rivers and streams

MADISON — The state Senate Natural Resources and Environment Committee today passed an amended bill that seeks to undo an important unanimous Wisconsin Supreme Court decision protecting state waterways.  While an earlier version of Senate Bill 302 already had potential to strip power from groundwater regulators, the latest version would effectively reroute the law around the 2011 Wisconsin Supreme Court Lake Beulah ruling.

“This legislation represents a serious step backward that generations to come could be paying for,” said Amber Meyer Smith, government relations director for Clean Wisconsin, the state’s largest environmental organization. “The question here is how many muddy lakefronts, dry wells and shallow streams will it take to show that we are on an unsustainable path?”

The Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling stemmed from a challenge brought by residents around Lake Beulah who were concerned about the impacts a proposed high-capacity well would have on the lake. The ruling made clear that Wisconsin residents have a constitutional right to adequate water resources, and that the state Department of Natural Resources must consider impacts to lakes, rivers and streams when evaluating high-capacity well permits.

“In just the past two years, Wisconsin has seen 40-percent growth in high-capacity well applications,” said Smith. “Because the Legislature has been unwilling to take steps forward to protect everyone’s access to adequate water, citizens have been forced to work it out in the courts. Now, this bill unravels protections of our waterways and threatens recreation, tourism, property values, tax revenues and the natural resources themselves.”