Law seeks to protect public health and prevent rivers, lakes and streams from drying up

MADISON — A new bill being circulated for co-sponsorship in the state Capitol seeks to protect public health and prevent Wisconsin’s lakes, rivers and streams from drying up by authorizing communities to implement solutions to restore depleted groundwater levels.

“Groundwater not only provides the majority of Wisconsinites with their drinking water, but it also maintains the water levels and the high quality of our treasured lakes, rivers and wetlands,” said Amber Meyer Smith, program director at Clean Wisconsin, the state’s largest environmental advocacy organization. “When groundwater supplies are drawn down, drinking water becomes unsafe, and lakes, streams and wetlands can dry up. Because of its importance to our way of life, we need to do all we can to protect our vital water resources.”

Drawdowns of groundwater increase concentrations of arsenic, radium and other naturally occurring substances, threatening public health. Severe drawdowns have affected the water supply of communities throughout southeastern and central Wisconsin. Most notably, a drawdown in Waukesha resulted in radium concentrations high enough that city officials will soon file a request to divert water out of Lake Michigan to use in place of groundwater.

Beyond diminishing the safety of our drinking water, groundwater drawdowns can also trigger streams and lakes to dry up, causing significant environmental and economic harm. As one example, the Little Plover River now regularly runs dry, resulting in significant fish kills on the central Wisconsin trout stream.

“Fishing is a $2.3 billion industry in Wisconsin that directly employs more than 25,000 individuals. This industry will dry up with the lakes and streams if we don’t act to protect our water,” said Smith. “When streams and lakes begin running dry, it’s a signal that we must manage our groundwater supply more effectively, and this bill will give local communities the tools they need to ensure our drinking water stays healthy and plentiful for generations to come.”

Building off the Groundwater Protection Act of 2004, this legislation closes gaps in current law that allow excessive pumping by large irrigation and municipal wells. The bill authorizes the state government to identify “groundwater management areas” in locales with severely drawn-down aquifers. A local council will then be appointed to develop and implement solutions designed to preserve a healthy and plentiful water supply for everyone.

“This bill will allow local communities that suffer from the adverse effects of groundwater drawdowns to come together to find unique solutions that protect and conserve the water supply,” said Smith. “By restoring and protecting our groundwater supply, this bill will help improve our environment, our economy and our health.”