State OKs pumping of 1 billion gallons from vulnerable aquifers

 The state has revised high-capacity well permits to allow 1 billion gallons of additional groundwater extraction as the Legislature prepares to remove another layer of regulation. Above, Wisconsin Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, with Wisconsin Rep. Gary Tauchen, R-Bonduel, at left, speak in favor of legislation rolling back regulation on high-capacity wells during a public hearing at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison.

The state has revised high-capacity well permits to allow 1 billion gallons of additional groundwater extraction as the Legislature prepares to remove another layer of regulation. Above, Wisconsin Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, with Wisconsin Rep. Gary Tauchen, R-Bonduel, at left, speak in favor of legislation rolling back regulation on high-capacity wells during a public hearing at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison.

Industry groups chafed at pumping limits, and said the DNR was overstepping its authority. But independent scientific studies linked high-capacity wells to dwindling water levels that were alarming waterfront homeowners, vacationers and fishing enthusiasts. The GOP’s majority in the Legislature failed several times to pass legislation removing regulations.

In 2016, a committee of GOP legislators led by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, asked Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel to issue a formal opinion on well regulation. Schimel said the DNR had overstepped the authority, and the agency stopped making well permitting decisions based on environmental impact of all wells in an area.

Now permits are decided based on the affect of wells on the well owner’s property, without regard to how much is being withdrawn by surrounding wells.