MADISON — After more than two years of meetings the Groundwater Advisory Committee (GAC), today released its final report to the legislature. The report analyzes how Wisconsin’s current groundwater law is working and offers recommendations for improvement.
The Committee, which was created by the legislature and comprised of municipal, industrial, agricultural and environmental representatives and charged with looking at what is still needed in the Wisconsin’s groundwater law, did not reach consensus on how to best manage the future of Wisconsin’s groundwater. What is clear to a group of conservation organizations responding to the report is that the current law has gaps in protection for important resources, that improvements to groundwater management are necessary, and that there are scientifically-defensible options for the state legislature to consider.
Existing state groundwater management laws fail to protect many of Wisconsin’s beautiful lakes and rivers. The Little Plover River, a groundwater-fed trout stream near Stevens Point, completely dried up during the summers of 2005 and 2006 due to over-pumping by local wells. “The current law does nothing to prevent this from happening again, and should be revised to require an evaluation of the potential impacts of all new wells on existing water resources as part of the permitting process, ” commented Lori Grant, policy manager of the River Alliance of Wisconsin.
Almost 70% of Wisconsin’s 15,000 lakes depend on groundwater for their water supply, yet 99% are unprotected under our current groundwater law. Water levels are dropping on many lakes across the state, often by several feet. “It’s not a lake if there is no water,” stated Tami Jackson of the Wisconsin Association of Lakes. “Many waterfront property owners’ piers are now on dry land overlooking puddles. Almost all of our lakes fall through a huge gap in our groundwater law. They need protection.”
Springs, which are critically important to many of Wisconsin’s most valuable surface waters and are also threatened by increased water pumping, also receive limited protection under current law. “The GAC report recognizes that only a small number of springs in the state receive any protections under the current law and appropriately recommends that more work be done to comprehensively inventory Wisconsin’s springs,” stated Will Hoyer, water specialist at Clean Wisconsin. “Given their ecological significance, especially to resources like trout streams, an expansion of springs’ legal protection remains a priority.”
Jodi Habush Sinykin, Of Counsel to Midwest Environmental Advocates and a GAC member, states, “Wisconsin’s 2003 groundwater law — although an important first step — falls short in several critical areas.” She continues, “The Legislature recognized that groundwater is a complex issue that affects all the state’s citizens. I believe this report provides the Legislature with the scientific information and the policy analysis needed to address the existing groundwater resource remains sustainable.”