Article courtesy of Associated Press
October 28, 2001
MADISON, Wis. -- Twenty lawmakers have asked the state Legislative
Council to study Wisconsin's mostly unregulated high-capacity
wells and their impact on the environment.
The move spearheaded by Rep. Spencer Black, D-Madison,
asks the bipartisan office which studies issues that may
require legislative action to examine problems caused
by the wells.
Current law allows the state Department of Natural Re-
sources to turn down permit applications for such a well
only if it will hurt a municipal water supply. A high-capacity
well is any well that pumps more than 70 gallons of water
Perrier, the Swiss-owned water-bottling company, has
sought to sink high-capacity wells and build a 1,000,000-square-foot
plant in central Wisconsin.
Opponents of the Perrier plan -- which is still alive
in the Adams County community of Big Springs -- succeeded
in getting legislation passed that requires the DNR to
more broadly consider the impact of high-capacity wells
used by water bottlers. But Black and others argue that
legislation is far too narrow.
The DNR has estimated water bottlers account for about
2 percent of the high capacity wells in Wisconsin. The
rest of the state's high-capacity wells, including
agricultural wells used for intensive irrigation, remain
unregulated. Those agricultural wells account for about
41 percent of high-capacity wells in the state.
Experts with the U.S. Geological Survey and the DNR
have said high-capacity wells can draw down water levels
of nearby lakes, trout streams and wetlands.
"The proposed Perrier well exposed how weak our laws
are when it comes to protecting the ground water supply,"
Black said. "While we have tough anti-pollution laws to
protect groundwater quality, ground water quantity is
now threatened by high-capacity wells pumping hundreds
of gallons of groundwater a day."
Perrier acknowledged in an agreement with the state
that the DNR could deny its permit if it found the bottling
project would harm the environment, said Perrier spokeswoman
Jane Lazgin. "Our project might actually become a model
for the kind of authority the state needs to have," Lazgin
said. "We're very much in line with Rep. Black's
position. Our project is likely to meet or exceed whatever
Perrier is building its bottling project in Michigan
but has kept its permit for the Big Springs site for possible
future use, Lazgin said.
Broader regulation of high-capacity wells met opposition
during the last legislative session from farm groups such
as the Farm Bureau.
A Legislative Council study was also requested as part
of the state budget. But the governor vetoed the study
Black said he hopes the Legislative Council will consider
the request in the spring and said a study could then
be completed in time to introduce tougher high-capacity
well laws during the 2002 legislative session.
"I think it will be a major item next session," Black