Strengthening groundwater laws

Strengthening groundwater lawsStrengthening groundwater laws is an essential part of safeguarding our water resources. We’re working with partners and legislators to update, expand and strengthen our outdated groundwater protections to ensure all our waterways remain viable and our families have access to clean, safe and plentiful drinking water.

The outdated Groundwater Protection Act

In 2004, Clean Wisconsin worked to help pass the Groundwater Protection Act. The law, passed in the aftermath of a defeated proposal to build a Perrier water bottling plant near Big Spring and the Mecan River, set new standards for the Department of Natural Resources and gave new resources to local governments to protect against over-pumping. While the law was progressive at the time, the authors and stakeholders all acknowledged that it was a first step huge gaps remained. But 10 years later, and despite recommendations for legislation from the Groundwater Advisory Committee, no next steps have been taken. It is not 2004 anymore, and protections remain weak at best.

Time to move forward

Since the Groundwater Protection Act was passed, problems with over-pumping groundwater have only gotten worse, the law is proving to be inadequate, and applications for large, high-capacity water wells have increased by 40% in the last three years alone. In addition, in both 2013 and 2014, legislation was introduced that would have rolled back our groundwater protections even more. Luckily, citizens across the state took notice and took action, and these attempts to undo what few protections we have were thwarted.

With fellow advocates, scientists and attorneys, we have drafted key principles for lawmakers as they proceed this session with drafting legislation to address this critical issue. These core principles will help us evaluate legislation as it is introduced:

  1. Groundwater management and permitting must be based on science
  2. Legislation must help citizens and protect natural resources that are impacted by over-pumping
  3. Legislation must prevent problems caused by over-pumping of groundwater in the future
  4. Legislation cannot roll back current protections

We need to let legislators know it is past time to take the next step forward, not backward. Both Minnesota and Michigan have figured out how to provide sustainable groundwater resources for all users and have funded programs that allow for a robust, protective process for issuing high capacity well permits. Wisconsin must do the same.

As we communicate these core principles in the Capitol, we also need your help. We need you to reach out to your legislators and let them know that you expect these core principles in any legislation addressing high-capacity wells and groundwater concerns.

In addition to working on the legislative front, our legal team is working to protect our groundwater in the permitting process and in the courts. In 2014 alone, Clean Wisconsin won two major legal victories against over-pumping at the New Chester and Richfield dairies. These cases are helping build support for stronger protections.