Sunday, August 19, 2007

Waukesha-Walworth Communities' Water Wars Provoke Legal Action

Several citizens and lake associations in Walworth and Waukesha Counties, frustrated with what they call insufficient regulation by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, have filed a legal document seeking more controls on approvals for new, large wells.

The plaintiffs fear their waters and nearby wetlands are threatened by new, so-called "high-capacity"wells drilled by thirsty and fast-growing neighboring communities.

The DNR has said it is operating within the law; the complainants want more aggressive planning for and oversight of wells based on the state's historic Public Trust Doctrine.

That is the state's constitutional protection of Wisconsin waters in the public interest, and, coincidentally, it is the public trust doctrine that has been raised by some pro-development opponents of the pending Great Lakes Compact to justify their opposition to the eight-state, cooperative agreement

The outcome of the Waukesha-Walworth communities' action could strongly influence development and land-use patterns in southeastern Wisconsin, including where water-based growth and wealth is created, and where water shortages could occur.

It could also lead to court action mandating that the DNR use the public trust doctrine to implement more aggressive regulation of Wisconsin waters - - in the public interest - - and that, in turn, could influence whether Wisconsin would or could support diversion of Great Lakes waters to areas of the state currently forbidden from receiving them.

In December, 2006, Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager issued an opinion that said the DNR did not have the authority to approve a diversion of Great Lakes water to New Berlin or Waukesha without the approval of all eight Great Lakes states' governors.

Lautenschlager now works for the Madison law firm of Lawton & Cates, which has filed the legal papers that call for stronger DNR oversight of high-capacity wells.

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