Waupaca citizen speaks out against SB291
By Carol Elvery
Editor’s Note: The column below is an excerpt from Carol Elvery’s written testimony to the Wisconsin Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee. The committee held a hearing on Senate Bill 291, introduced by state Sen. Robert Cowles, R-Allouez. Elvery lives on Sahdow Lake in the city of Waupaca and represents the Friends of Mirror Shadow Lakes and the Central Sands Water Action Coalition.
I appreciate the time and study that went into developing Senate Bill 291. It is a good start at offering waterfront owners some relief from the impact on their waters from high-capacity-well pumping. I have some concerns, however. It is my hope that working together, it is possible to make a better bill. As it is presently written, I am opposed to SB291.
My husband and I retired and moved to Waupaca from Illinois 20 years ago so we could enjoy Wisconsin lakes and rivers. We enjoyed countless hours of joy and peace, but now we are concerned. Though my lake has not been affected by this groundwater crisis, so far, I have friends who have been impacted greatly by the problem.
The first time I visited one friend who lives on a lake just south of Waupaca, she had a lovely lakeshore, a beach that the grandkids love to play on and a pontoon boat at the end of the dock to take the family for rides.
In recent years, her waterfront has totally disappeared, her dock is “a dock to nowhere” and the boat has been sold since there is no way to get to it. This spring, her property value was decreased and her property taxes were lowered. She said she was worried it would get worse. The nearby farm was sold last year. This year the new owner had irrigation rigs where previously there had been none.
My friend’s lake is one of the four lakes identified for needing further hydrological study in the bill. What if it is Shadow Lake? How long will it take to complete the steps to be determined to qualify as an SRA? Then how much longer will it take after the Joint Finance Committee gives DNR permission to study it further? Then how long will it take for the area to be designated an SRA by statute?
Assuming the water level has decreased noticeably in order to start the whole process, there already is more water being withdrawn than can be replaced by re-charge from snow pack or other precipitation. How much more impact does my lake have to withstand before there would be any remediation? I’m sorry, but suddenly, I don’t feel much help as this bill is presently written.
If this process has to be repeated for every lake and river in the Central Sands, I can’t see help for waterfront owners any time in the near future. Can’t the whole Central Sands area be designated as an SRA?
Another concern for me is that this bill rolls back the few protections that waterfront owners have gotten recently, through the courts. For example, the DNR has started to consider the cumulative impacts of existing wells in their process of permitting for a new well application. This bill would remove consideration of cumulative impacts in the permitting process. But is it not the cumulative withdrawals that have created these disappearing lakes and dried up wetlands and rivers? One well may not make a difference, but together, the sum is more than the parts.
All of us have an equal right to the water, farmers and all the other people of Wisconsin. Is it fair that a farmer draws from the public’s waters with no review process in place as stated in this bill? Is it fair that farmers can take so much water that a person’s lakeshore disappears? Or that a fisherman’s favorite trout stream dries?
What in this legislation gives me certainty the process will effectively protect my lake?
SB291, like SB239 before it, does not serve all water users; it only cements the farmers’ right to the public’s water into the future.
We need a groundwater management bill that provides mechanisms to insure that water is shared fairly between farmers and those who have invested in waterfront property and those whose lives depend on the recreational use of our waterways.