High capacity wells pump up debate - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

High capacity wells pump up debate

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Eau Claire (WQOW) - The state budget is in the governor's hands and many people and businesses in our area want to know what he'll do with one provision about water.

High capacity wells handle anywhere from a few thousand gallons to a several million per year and are commonly used by farms and frac sand mines alike.

One part of the state budget would limit the power people have to challenge high-capacity well applications and permits.

"High capacity wells are being developed through this area on up," explains retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife regional assistant director Gerry Lowry.

High capacity wells aren't a new concept, but their popularity has grown in Western Wisconsin in recent years, leading to what opponents call a cumulative effect.

"When a large number of high capacity wells draw down the water, the underground water, the aquifer," says State Senator Kathleen Vinehout.

Something lawmakers didn't anticipate in the past.

"When the laws in relation to these and some other interests were first started, we didn't know as much about the impacts of groundwater and the interconnection between lakes and streams," says Lowry.

That can be problematic because the DNR doesn't record the proximity of one well to another when it gathers data and approves permits.

"I believe that the state should put more emphasis on monitoring.  The state should look at all the wells in a single area.  This is particularly important in the Chippewa Valley area as it relates to sand mines," says Vinehout.

Frac sand mines aren't the only industry drawing from the water table though, because farmers also need water for their crops.

"We understand why farmers want to put those wells down, with the price of corn what it is," says Lowry.

"I think that we need high capacity wells and there's a lot of farmers that depend on those high capacity wells.  The problem comes when you have a large number of wells in a single area," says Vinehout.

If the current addition to the budget passes, no one would be able to challenge the placement of high capacity wells placed close together, which some fear could reduce water levels.

"If we lose it due to high capacity wells, it's something that can't be gotten back.  It's like a Chinese finger trap.  Once it's gone, very difficult to ever recover it again," says Lowry.

Meaning the controversy over high capacity wells isn't drying up anytime soon.

Republican lawmakers say the DNR will continue to protect the groundwater but it was important to preserve the role of the legislature in developing policy instead of leaving the door open for litigation.

Three democrats including Senator Vinehout sent a letter to the governor asking him to veto that part of the budget.

The governor hasn't announced whether he plans to make any vetoes.

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