Ruling is second this month to help DNR take better control of high-capacity well use

MADISON — A judge has ruled that the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources was right to use its authority to require groundwater monitoring equipment at New Chester Dairy, Grand Marsh, in Adams County. Administrative Law Judge Jeffrey Boldt’s order Friday marks the second significant ruling on Central Wisconsin groundwater disputes in less than a month that will have a positive impact on protection of natural resources statewide.

“The Wisconsin DNR can – and must – make science-based decisions to manage our precious natural resources,” said Elizabeth Wheeler, staff attorney for Clean Wisconsin, the state’s largest and oldest environmental group. “DNR rightly exercised caution. Monitoring should always be considered a core responsibility of major water users like New Chester Dairy.”

The case stems from New Chester Dairy’s 2012 application to tap two new wells and increase groundwater pumping to 145 million gallons annually to support an expansion at the dairy. The DNR granted conditional approval, requiring the dairy also install monitoring equipment. New Chester then filed suit, alleging that DNR lacked authority to require the monitoring. Clean Wisconsin intervened in the case in April 2013 to defend the monitoring condition.

“With this ruling, the DNR has a clearer path to make sound decisions at a time we’re seeing a major surge in high-capacity well applications,” said Wheeler. “Protection of our water is a core DNR duty, and the DNR should be allowed any tool that will enable it to do the job more effectively.”

The New Chester ruling is the second significant decision to protect Wisconsin’s groundwater this month. In early September, Judge Boldt ruled in another hearing regarding high-capacity wells at the nearby Richfield Dairy that DNR should be considering cumulative impacts of high capacity well pumping. The Richfield decision affirmed groundwater use is a privilege, not a right. New Chester and Richfield dairies are owned by the same company, Milk Source.

The New Chester decision also helps to support groundwater protection amid recent legislative attacks. A provision that went into effect July 1 stripped citizens of their right to pose challenges on cumulative impact issues. The decision also comes on the heels of the defeat of a groundwater bill last session that sought to limit DNR’s authority and review of environmental impacts.