Action puts Wisconsin’s lakes, rivers and drinking water at risk; Legislature asked to remove policy from budget bill

MADISON — In a surprise move last week, the Joint Committee on Finance slipped a new groundwater policy into the 2013-’14 budget bill on a party-line vote, putting Wisconsin’s lakes, rivers and drinking water at risk.

“This is a hugely controversial policy that has absolutely no business being stuck into the state budget where it will not receive the proper debate,” says Amber Meyer Smith, director of programs and government relations at Clean Wisconsin, the state’s largest environmental organization. “Adding this policy to the budget bill is a slap in the face to the people fighting to protect their lakefront property and to farmers and private well owners who want to make sure they can continue to meet their water needs.”

The amendment prohibits challenges to a high-capacity well permit based on the well’s cumulative environmental impacts. The cumulative impact of high-capacity wells is of great concern, especially when they are located in concentrated areas because they can draw down groundwater levels so significantly that neighboring wells run dry and water levels drop on local lakes and rivers.

“In less than five minutes, the committee jeopardized decades of work fighting for stronger protections of our precious water resources by passing an amendment with little debate about the legal and political impacts,” says Smith. “Our groundwater should be protected for all, not just a few.”

Last week’s action will limit the ability of property owners to ensure they have a safe, adequate supply of drinking water and is especially disastrous for those areas of the state where groundwater is already strained. Cumulative impacts of groundwater pumping are an increasing concern on Wisconsin’s landscape due to the rise of frac sand operations and large farms, both of which are concentrated in certain small areas and pump a lot of water.

“It will sink waterfront property values, turn our favorite lakes into mudholes, and make drinking water a commodity to be sold to the highest bidder,” says Smith. “We are asking that cooler heads prevail, and because of the potential consequences, that this policy provision be stripped from the budget bill as the Legislature continues its budget discussions.”