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In the News: Staff Columns

Back to the future for high-cap well bill

Tuesday, March 28, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: John Holevoet, director of government affairs
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If this sounds familiar, that’s because it should.

State lawmakers are considering a bill aimed at protecting investments in existing high-capacity wells used by farmers and others. The bill mirrors exactly a bill that passed the state Senate last year but did not quite make it through the process.

The earlier bill was authored by the late Sen. Rick Gudex. The new one — SB 76 — has been introduced by Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald.

In 2016, the Senate and Assembly each passed very similar, but slightly different versions of this bill. Sadly, they ran out of time during the legislative session to reconcile the one minor difference, which kept the bill from going to Gov. Scott Walker for his signature. This year, that reconciliation has already occurred at introduction. An Assembly version of the bill that exactly matches SB 76 was introduced by Reps. Gary Tauchen, Lee Nerison and eight of their Assembly colleagues.

The legislation has two main points.

First, it would allow owners of existing wells to repair, replace, reconstruct or transfer those wells without a new environmental review by the state Department of Natural Resources. This would give farmers with HCWs peace of mind and protect their property values. This is what makes the bill such a priority for Wisconsin agriculture.

Next, the bill calls for the study of the potential impact of pumping on surface waters in a portion of the Central Sands, an area in the central part of the state known for sandy soil and a high concentration of irrigation wells.

The tight connection between surface waters and the upper-most level of groundwater has affected some lake and stream levels in parts of the Central Sands. This is a historic problem with many causes, but new research could help to determine what role, if any, HCWs play and what can best be done to mitigate them.

At the same time, well owners inside the study area would need to install a water meter for future water-use reporting if they repair, replace, reconstruct or transfer a well. Reporting water usage is already required for all HCW owners. This change is meant to enhance what is already being done in an area of the state that is dealing with groundwater effects to surface waters.

The bills have been referred to the Senate Committee on Labor and Regulatory Reform and the Assembly Agriculture Committee. A public hearing was held on March 15. DBA members and staff were among the many people who offered testimony.

As of this writing, those committees had not yet held an executive session to determine if the bills can advance for an eventual floor vote. That will likely occur sometime this month. Please look for email updates.

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