Tuesday, April 6, 2021

DNR continues long look at Long Lake, region's too-long drawdowns

Wisconsin's long, long look at long-acknowledged harmful and excessive groundwater pumping is about to get yet another long look.

And, yes, this latest long look will continue to look at Long Lake, which in a 2007 blog post I referred to as "Gone Lake" because its falling water levels were known way back then.

Long Lake in Waushara County is pretty much Gone Lake, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Meg Jones, as spring-fed lakes dry up in a continuing drought....

We'll see if the politicians in our state can connect the dots...in a state literally created because of its proximity to the Great Lakes and to land naturally-enriched by streams, rivers, lakes and underground supplies left behind by melting glaciers.

(Regrettably that MJS link no longer functions.) 

On the one hand, it is good to see the WI DNR relying on science and data to advance the study of groundwater depletion in the Central Sands region, and to announce Tuesday a request for public input.

Over the past three years, the DNR and partners have evaluated and modeled the impacts of groundwater withdrawals from high-capacity wells on Pleasant, Long and Plainfield Lakes in Waushara County, as required by state law. The Central Sands Lakes Study built on decades of studies evaluating groundwater and surface water connections in the Central Sands region.

While the three study lakes fluctuate naturally, the DNR determined that groundwater withdrawals for irrigated agriculture significantly reduce water levels on two of three study lakes: Long and Plainfield.

Policy dedication to science, data and public opinion - particularly when it came to water supply and quality matters - had been flushed away during the Walker years, as I noted in a 21-part blog series in 2018:

...take note of this unbelievable, no, very believable story published just yesterday about Walker's DNR, aided by GOP AG Brad Schimel and GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos:

Wisconsin permits wells in areas judge ruled pumping would harm trout streams

I'd written about this lever-pulling-industry-to Vos-to-Schimel-to the DNR-and back-to-industry-judiciary-and-the-public-be-damned network before:

Wisconsin officials tilt land, water, conservation to corporate goals

...Including [Schimel's] issuance of a favorable opinion that granted large-scale groundwater withdrawals to big operators which they had openly demanded GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos deliver. 

While Wisconsin is abusing, over pumping and contaminating our groundwater, the Legislature's GOP Assembly Leader Robin Vos - - a leading Wisconsin corporate water-carrier - - is seeking an opinion from GOP Attorney General and fellow corporate water-carrier Brad Schimel that could turn over more groundwater to corporate control and away from public oversight...

On the other hand, studies into Long Lake and the Central Sands region have dragged on for years, and I noted in 2015:

Groundwater in the Wisconsin's central sands region is both over-pumped and contaminated at high levels by animal waste runoff, but officials have been unable or unwilling to stop it.


and here in a July, 2019 post, among many.

There's more proof that science is back in Wisconsin public policy work after being shelved during Walker's eight-year reign on behalf of donors and polluters...
This [Wisconsin Public Radio] story quotes the noted Wisconsin water expert George Kraft on the relationship better agricultural practices and clean drinking water. 

George Kraft, an emeritus professor of water resources with the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, said one problem is that the costs of pollution are externalized...And that’s disconnected from where the nitrate pollution is being applied," Kraft said.
In central Wisconsin...Potatoes require large amounts of water to grow. Kraft said the use of high-capacity wells had increased from 97 in the Central Sands region in 1960 to about 2,500 now. 
Separately, here is another report, with photos.
The River Alliance of Wisconsin cites the [Little Plover] River's situation as a warning about the consequences of state water misuse; I posted last year these River Alliance Little Plover photos, below, and mentioned the river's problems in a summary blog post from last May that included more than a dozen links cataloguing the many threats to public waters in Wisconsin
Scott Walker and his party's obeisance to businesses which think the state's groundwater and surface water are theirs to deplete, pollute and otherwise expropriate have only intensified the state's water crisis.
River Alliance of Wisconsin photos

Dead Brookie

Those impacts on the Little Plover River have long been recorded, as this story noted four years ago tomorrow, April 7, and cited events dating to 2005:

A now completed report confirms what researchers revealed last year: high-capacity wells in the Central Sands region of the state are affecting the water flow in the Little Plover River.

The Class 1 trout stream — which begins near Plover and flows into the Wisconsin River — has dried up several times, starting in 2005.

One of the report’s authors, state geologist Ken Bradbury said the river’s problems are tied to an increase in high-capacity wells.

And let's not forget that Vos worked hand-in-hand with then GOP Attorney General Brad Schimel so the state would accede to big ag's hand-delivered demand for guaranteed access to state groundwater - which in turn led to litigation that reversed some of this blatant exercise of special interest power.

Judge tosses well permits, citing waterway protections 

So my bottom line prediction today: the DNR's studies - important and well-intentioned as they are  - will continue, as does citizen action.


The state's long look at Long Lake's falling levels speaks to a crisis statewide - noted by The New York Times as Wisconsin's 'Flint' - that has produced a wait for healthy and rational water solutions which a Kewaunee County rural activist said years ago had been delayed 'long enough.' 

Note that the GOP has opposed raising the minuscule fees which pay for some clean rural drinking water provision, and support taking away localities' ability to oversee some mega-dairy operations.

Despite the documented medical and public health costs:

Around 10 percent of private wells sampled in Wisconsin exceed safe levels of nitrate in groundwater — about 90 percent of which stems from agriculture, according to the Wisconsin Groundwater Coordinating Council.

The report found nitrate contamination was more often growing worse than improving in Wisconsin among nearly a quarter of roughly 3,800 public wells from systems that serve restaurants, taverns and churches.

This obstruction will persist because the Legislature remains gerrymandered in the Republicans' favor - and the GOP's open embrace of big water-sucking ag operations  - you can read Republicans' Valentine in their own words, here - will continue to water down or block any Evers' directed/science-and-environmentally-based groundwater solution.


Jake formerly of the LP said...

Great rundown James. Seems like it’s time for Josh Kaul to take on Big Ag, both through legal action and public statements.

Of course, it would help if Central Wisconsin would stop being so Trumpy and electing GOP hacks like Krug and Testin. Because it’s not going to get significantly better until the GOP crooks get booted from the gerrymandered Legislature.

You’d think the citizens of the Central Sands would care about having lakes and natural recreation areas, but their voting patterns aren’t showing it in recent years.


The continued draw-downs will of course make a HUGE difference for the water tables across the State...that we already know! My major issue is with, what happens when that water is used and then discharged from the farm. The State of Wisconsin has already changed the rules for 13 Counties because of the Soil type and Geology issues with the bedrock...NR151...the State agreed with the experts about spreading liquid manure on land with SHALLOW BEDROCK ISSUES...KARST FORMATIONS...some of these fields have been applied onto for decades. What our DNR did not do was...restrict all liquid manure spreading on land with less than 50 feet to KARST FORMATIONS and limit the yearly amount. Until we address this and the depth to groundwater issue...THINGS WILL ONLY GET WORSE...WHY...because we are not making anymore LAND...and more animals will come..! The animals have done nothing wrong...THE PROBLEM IS WITH THEIR...OWNERS..!