The state Department of Natural Resources has changed its policy for reviewing applications for high capacity well permits.
In a policy posted on the DNR website Friday, agency officials said the application process will remain the same. However, “the DNR must limit the scope of its review of proposed high capacity wells to that which is specifically authorized in statutes and rules, and may not include conditions in approvals unless explicitly required by law.”
The change means the Department will no longer look at the effects such wells have on nearby bodies of water when it considers permit applications.
The move comes a month after an opinion from Attorney Brad Schimel stated the DNR is unable to impose additional conditions on permits, beyond what’s already in state law.
The DNR said the policy is expected to greatly speed up the approval process for high capacity well permits, which are often used by farmers, manufacturers, and municipalities with massive water needs. Such wells pump upwards of 100,000 gallons of water per day.
Environmental groups worry it will leave most of the state’s lakes, rivers, and streams unprotected from the dangers of over-pumping by those wells. “This decision leaves as much as 90% of our lakes, rivers, streams and wetlands unprotected from the proven impacts of over-pumping from high-capacity wells,” argued Elizabeth Wheeler with Clean Wisconsin, who also took issue with the little notice the DNR gave the change was coming when hundreds of people have urged the agency to reject Schimel’s opinion. “Taking this action without any proactive notice to the public is especially egregious because so many people have been watching,” she said.