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Wisconsin Lakes calls for protection of citizens right to challenge high capacity well permits, removal of policy item from state budget

May 30, 2013 | 0 comments

Wisconsin Lakes called on legislators to remove a policy item inserted into the state budget bill by the Joint Finance Committee.

The provision would prohibit citizens from challenging a high capacity well permit on the grounds that, in granting the permit, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) failed to consider the total impact from all wells in the area on ground and surface water levels.

The statewide organization, which represents lake associations, lake districts, and citizens who care deeply about the health and preservation of Wisconsin's unique and precious water resources, objects to the Joint Finance Committee's action on several grounds.

"First and foremost," said Executive Director Karen von Huene, "it is clear that too many big wells in an area can cause private wells to dry up and lakes and rivers to recede to catastrophic levels, because we've seen it happen time and again in Central Wisconsin."

Several Central Wisconsin water bodies, including the Little Plover River and Long Lake, have run almost if not completely dry several times over the last decade.

"To say citizens cannot challenge a decision made without considering the entire or cumulative impact of pumping in an area, as this provision does, is obviously unfair, and may very well be in violation of the Wisconsin Constitution."

The Joint Finance Committee added the provision in a surprise move at the end of one of many long budget sessions. The motion was not released or announced prior to its introduction in the meeting, and is not subject to a public hearing.

In addition, it has no fiscal implication for the state, making it a matter of pure policy buried deep within the massive budget bill.

And finally, from the way it is written it appears the motion was designed in part to put a stop to legal challenges to high-capacity well permits already under way.

"Given that this action could have deep impact on property values, economic interests, and the general way of life of many citizens of this state," commented von Huene, "this obvious piece of policy should never have been inserted into the budget, and the way in which it was done certainly makes one question the intent of the provision. Time and time again, it seems that potentially controversial issues of policy are hidden away in a budget bill to ease their passage. This shoddy process has to come to an end."

"We call on the Legislature to do the right thing", says von Huene, "and to stand up for the bi-partisan heritage of protecting the waters of our state. We must consider the impact of all high-capacity wells in an area when considering a permit for a new well, citizens must have the right to challenge agency decisions when they don't do that analysis, and this provision from the Joint Finance Committee that would prevent such a challenge must be removed from the budget."

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