Judge: DNR must consider cumulative impacts in issuing high-capacity well permits

Editor’s note: The following is from Friends of the Central Sands in Coloma, Wisconsin. Among other efforts, the group has been fighting to preserve waterways by fighting against a proposed Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) in Richfield, Wisconsin. Coloma is a village in Waushara County in central Wisconsin.

The following e-mail introducing the press release was sent by Friends of the Central Sands’ Bob Clarke Sept. 5:

Major Victory Today!

I will try to send out additional information later, but for now … celebrate with us! YOU made this happen.

Earlier today, I received the news from our attorney, Christa Westerberg. This is a major victory for everyone who values our water.

Press release sent out this afternoon:”

An administrative law judge issued a decision finding that the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) must consider the cumulative impacts of groundwater pumping when considering new high-capacity well permits.

The ruling came in a case brought by Friends of the Central Sands (FOCS) and others challenging a well permit for the proposed Richfield Dairy concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) in Adams County. The DNR had said it lacked authority to take the impacts of existing and future wells into account when issuing new high-capacity well permits.

The judge found that the DNR “took an unreasonably limited view of its authority,” and that the public trust doctrine, statutes and decades of court precedent required DNR to consider cumulative impacts. The decision continued, “It is scientifically unsupported, and impossible as a practical matter, to manage water resources if cumulative impacts are not considered.”

Bob Clarke, founder of FOCS, noted: “It is common sense that the DNR must consider cumulative impacts of groundwater pumping before allowing another well. This decision recognizes that science and the law compel consideration of cumulative impacts, too.”

The decision comes at a critical time, as studies have shown surface water levels are dropping in the Central Sands area as a result of high-capacity well pumping, primarily for irrigation. Evidence presented at a hearing showed water resources near the proposed CAFO were already pumping-impacted, including Pleasant Lake, wetlands and numerous Class 1- and 2-rated trout streams.

Yet, the DNR has seen record numbers of well permit applications in recent years.

For years, we have failed to consider the consequences to our water resources when allowing new high-capacity wells,” said Bill Vance, a homeowner on Pleasant Lake and a FOCS board member. “This decision recognizes that the DNR must do the math and consider how much is too much.”

This week’s decision caps a process that began in 2011, when Richfield Dairy first applied for a high-capacity well permit. Court decisions in 2012 and 2013 had determined the DNR’s analysis of the well application was flawed. This week’s decision comes after three weeks of hearings, where experts testified on the existing and projected impacts to water resources.

The judge’s decision reduced the allowable amount of water the dairy may pump in one year. In a companion case, the administrative law judge determined the DNR should have established a cap on the number of animals that may be confined at the CAFO.

A copy of the decision is available on our website, http://www.friendsofcs.org/.

From the Sept. 10-16, 2014, issue

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