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Great Lakes Article:

Study on how state manages its water is almost done
Ron Seely
Wisconsin State Journal
Posted 10/09/2002

indentTOWN OF NEWPORT - Hiroshi Kanno and his neighbors east of Wisconsin Dells are resting a bit easier now that Perrier has dropped efforts to get permits for pumping and bottling spring water in Adams County.
indentKanno was part of a group of residents who spent a good part of three years fighting the giant water bottler. The controversy brought the issue of Wisconsin's water - both the management of its groundwater and protection of its lakes and rivers - to the headlines.
indentNow a year-long effort to study the state's water policies - which was started largely as a result of the Perrier battle - is nearing completion, and Kanno and others who fought the corporation worry recommendations for changes in the state's laws will not be strong enough.
indent"We're concerned there might be a lot of compromises made and that they won't deal with the real issues," said Kanno, who belongs to a citizen group called Concerned Citizens of Newport. The million-square foot bottling plant proposed by Perrier would have been built in the town of Newport.
indentBut organizers of the ambitious project, called "Waters of Wisconsin," said they are optimistic that changes in how the state takes care of its water will happen in the wake of a two-day forum that will culminate the effort. The forum is scheduled for Oct. 21 and 22 at the Monona Terrace in Madison. Those changes, however, may take time.
indent"This is going to be a process," said Michael Strigel, director of programs for the Wisconsin Academy, Sciences and Letters, which organized the project and is holding the forum. "And if we're going to do it right, it will take time. There will not be a slam dunk."
indentOne of at least two reports that will be used to hash out policy proposals at the forum was released late last week by the Wisconsin Groundwater Coordinating Council. The report calls for making a number of changes in the state's water policies, including:

  • Clarification of who "owns" groundwater.
  • Linking land use planning and groundwater protection.
  • Developing a more comprehensive approach to managing groundwater.
  • Managing water in a way that recognizes connections between groundwater and surface water.
  • Collecting long-term data on water use.
    indentAnders Andren, director of the Water Resources Institute at UW-Madison and one of the organizers of Waters of Wisconsin, said he hopes the project and the forum will be able to come up with concrete solutions to real problems with the state's water policies.
    indentOne major problem, Andren said, is there are currently no laws or policies that govern who puts wells where or how much water is withdrawn. It's one of the most important issues that needs to be dealt with during the forum, he added.
    indent"We really have to pay attention to the way we're drawing down water levels," Andren said. "I think that's a huge problem. You have people just sinking wells left, right and center without an overall plan. We should have much better coordination."
    indentKanno said Perrier opponents are hoping participants in the forum - including some of the state's foremost water experts as well as representatives of citizen groups - will talk about one of the most glaring loopholes in state water laws. Residents who fought Perrier, Kanno said, discovered that state laws do no require the Department of Natural Resources to consider the impact of a high-capacity well on rural water resources, such as private wells or wetlands and lakes.
    indent"Water belongs to all people," Kanno said. "It doesn't belong to Perrier. It doesn't belong to an individual farmer."
    indentThe report from the Wisconsin Groundwater Coordinating Council suggests a number of potential solutions to plugging the loophole, including expanding the state's authority for considering the impact of high-capacity wells on non-municipal wells and water resources such as marshes and other wetlands.
    indentStephen Born, a professor of Urban and Regional Planning at UW-Madison and a co-chairman of the Waters of Wisconsin project, said that it is important to consider such specific changes but added that the proposals have to be made in the context of a broader look at the state's overall approach to protecting its water supplies.
    indent"I think we can make recommendations for specific reforms while looking at the larger game plan," Born said.
    indentKanno said that, regardless of the outcome of the forum, the issue of how we manage our water is now higher on the list of things the public cares about.
    indent"There is a groundswell of concern," Kanno said. "And I think this is probably a reflection of that. This is going to force legislators to listen."
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