Clean Wisconsin
Press Release

High-capacity well bill’s passage ensures ongoing groundwater conflicts

Bill gives away public groundwater for private benefit

By - May 2nd, 2017 11:50 pm


Madison, Wis. – On a 62-35 vote, lawmakers on Tuesday passed legislation that ensures unsustainable pumping rates by existing high-capacity wells will continue unchecked and jeopardize water supplies and lock-in conflicts between major water users and property owners.

Feeling growing public opposition to Senate Bill 76, Assembly Republicans rushed to pass the measure, which strips the ability of DNR to review high capacity well permits that are being repaired, replaced, reconstructed or transferred regardless of impacts to nearby private wells or lakes, rivers streams and wetlands. In some areas of the state, most notably the Central Sands where the presence of high capacity wells has grown exponentially, and once waterfront properties are now mudfront properties.

“Legislators who voted to support this bill today sent a strong message that the public’s water can be given away for private benefit – regardless of the impacts to our natural resources,” said Clean Wisconsin‘s Amber Meyer Smith, Director of Programs and Government Relations.

“This bill completely ignores what is really happening in some areas of our state that are already being impacted by unsustainable levels of groundwater pumping from high-capacity wells,” Smith added.

The courts have ruled the DNR must manage the waters of Wisconsin for the mutual benefit of all users in accordance with the state constitution.

Clean Wisconsin and the Pleasant Lake Management District are suing the DNR over the agency’s failure to act on its duty to protect nearby water bodies from the impacts of eight high-capacity wells in violation of its Constitutional obligation to protect the natural resources the citizens of Wisconsin entrusted it.

A recent Clean Wisconsin review of dozens of high-capacity well permits from around the state showed how Attorney General Brad Schimel’s flawed 2016 legal opinion created a massive water grab, allowing high-capacity well permit-holders to pump enormous quantities of water despite well-documented analyses from the agency’s own scientists about the likely impacts to natural resources and nearby private wells.

“To ignore the recently-revealed information that the state just gave away another 1 billion gallons of the public’s water is stunning,” Smith said. “We are calling on Gov. Scott Walker to veto this bill.”

Visit to view a chart of the high capacity well permit modifications.

On behalf of its more than 30,000 members, supporters and its coalition partners, Clean Wisconsin protects and preserves Wisconsin’s clean air, water and natural heritage.

More about the SB 76

5 thoughts on “The State of Politics: Lawmakers Battle Over High Capacity Wells”

  1. daniel golden says:

    As I anticipated, Brad Schimel has been the unethical corporate whore I expected as Attorney General. The rule of law is clear: the AG opines, but the courts decide. Even the present GOP controlled Wisconsin Supreme Court decided in 2011 that the DNR had to follow the Wisconsin Constitution and regulate Wisconsin’s waters for all the citizens of the state. Brad Schimil, faithful GOP lap dog that he is, ignored this decision and issued an opinion to the contrary. Any sentient attorney knows that the DNR must follow the decisions of the Wisconsin Supreme Court when they conflict with an AG’s opinion. We now see the danger of putting incompetent, high school graduates in positions of power. Cathy Stepp, the realtor now posing as head of the DNR, has instructed her agency to ignore the Supreme Court decision in favor of one from Schimel that could have as easily been written by a lawyer for Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce. One third of the wells in Kewanee County have polluted ground water because of corporate agriculture. Yet Schimil OK’s more of the same. The worst of us are governing the rest of us.

  2. swamper says:

    Vos disagreed: “Water levels are historically high right now. Lake Michigan is at a 90-year high. We’re not at some point where are running short of water in Wisconsin.”

    The statement by Vos is simply not true. Lake Michigan is about a foot below the all time high recorded in the mid-80’s.

    And water in Lake Michigan doesn’t find its way to the Central Sands.

    What a liar.

  3. swamper says:


    Here is the actual data from the ACOE:

    Current Lake Michigan: 580.17′ IGLD

    All time High: 582.35′ IGLD (Oct 1986)

    All time low: 576.02′ IGLD (Jan. 2013).

    Somebody should call out Vos on this intentional lie.

  4. Vincent Hanna says:

    Pretty sure Vos doesn’t care if he’s wrong.

  5. Monica Trudell says:

    I would invite Assembly Speaker Vos to Huron Lake in Waushara County to see the LOW water levels on this beautiful lake which is surrounded by high capacity wells. My husband and I have personally had to put in a new well due to the decline in water levels. Historic high levels? Not in the majority of the state! Come see for yourself, Mr. Vos!

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