State water officials are expediting farmers’ requests to divert stream or lake water to irrigate streamside crop fields.
That’s in response to a drought emergency that Gov. Scott Walker declared July 9.
“We have approved 44 emergency irrigation permits to date and 38 were issued on the same day we received the request,” state Department of Natural Resources Secretary Cathy Stepp said. “We understand the urgency. DNR staff are making quick decisions on emergency irrigation requests and will work with farmers to make water available whenever possible while still protecting the resources of sensitive streams and lakes.”
Some streams are already dry or very low due to drought conditions. Unfortunately, water levels in some streams, particularly in southern Wisconsin, may already be too low to support irrigation requests, according to Stepp.
“We need everyone to think water conservation – farmers, water users, businesses and industry alike – to extend water supplies, helping protect the environment and other water users,” she said.
DNR waterway science and policy leader Martye Griffin said Walker’s executive orders declaring a state of drought emergency statewide will last through Sept. 18 and provide for expedited requests of temporary irrigation permits for the purpose of agriculture crop irrigation.
To qualify, the farmer has to be the owner of the land adjacent to the lake and stream and diverted water can only be used on the land contiguous to the waterway. Permits can only be granted if there is surplus water to be withdrawn and the withdrawal will not cause adverse effects on the environment.
The temporary irrigation permits are valid for 30 days.
Regardless of when they are granted, they are valid only until the 60-day emergency declaration ends, unless extended by a joint resolution of the state Legislature.
DNR staff who process the requests do not have to go through normal public notification procedures for potentially affected other users about the irrigation request, Griffin said.
The order requires DNR staff to inspect the stream or lake proposed for diversion within 72 hours of receiving a request.
People who want to request agricultural water diversions should identify their streamside lands and the proposed pump location; determine how much water they need and how often; and contact the DNR water management specialist for their county.
Area specialists include Scott Koehnke (Waupaca, Winnebago, Outagamie and Shawano counties), Scott.Koehnke@Wisconsin.gov; Will Stites (Portage and Waushara counties), Will.Stites.Wisconsin.gov; Crystal Schiefelbein (Outagamie County), Crystal.Schiefelbein@Wisconsin.gov; and Brenda Nordin (Winnebago County), Brenda.Nordin@Wisconsin.gov.
The state can modify or deny requests where fisheries biologists and habitat protection staff find that the proposed diversion, combined with other diversions from the particular stream or lake, will cause “unduly adverse environmental effects.”
For example, staff could add restrictions to avoid a fish kill or avert a potential public health hazard if the diversion would reduce stream flow to the point it couldn’t sufficiently dilute permitted discharges. In other cases, the amount of water that can be pumped may be limited to ensure that a minimum flow to support aquatic life is maintained.