With the approach of Spring, the high capacity well debate has begun again in Wisconsin. Senate Bill 76, which was authored by Senators Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) and Roth (R-Appleton), (Majority Leader and President of the Senate, respectively) was introduced and referred to the Committee on Labor and Regulatory Reform. The Assembly co-authors include Representatives Tauchen (R-Bonduel) and Nerison (R-Westby), both of whom have deep experience on agricultural policy. There are not currently any democrats signed onto the bill. The bill’s supporters argue that it is critical to the long-term viability of irrigated agriculture in Wisconsin. The ready availability of deep, replenishing aquifers provides Wisconsin a strategic advantage over other states and has resulted in Wisconsin becoming a world leader in potato and vegetable production. Wisconsin now produces such a volume of canned vegetables that the U.S. Department of Defense has identified Wisconsin’s canned vegetable production as a critical factor in supplying food for American troops.
The bill has garnered some degree of controversy. A key concern is whether high capacity wells are negatively impacting stream flows or lake levels in the central area of the state, where most of the potato and vegetable crop is grown. To help get to the bottom of this concern, the bill mandates that the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) study certain central Wisconsin watersheds delineated in the bill and make recommendations to the Legislature as to whether special measures should be implemented within the study area to prevent, or remedy a significant reduction of stream flow or lake levels. The bill does not currently provide additional funding to the DNR for the study, meaning the DNR will need to absorb the study within its current budget. However, it is possible the Legislature could allocate additional funding for the study as the state budget process moves ahead.