Midwest Environmental Advocates is a nonprofit environmental law center that works for healthy water, air, land and government for this generation and the next. We believe that every citizen has the potential to make a difference.

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More support for Clean Wisconsin High-Capacity Well Challenge

Jun 20, 2017

On Monday, Midwest Environmental Advocates filed amicus curiae (friend of the court) briefs in support of Clean Wisconsin and the Pleasant Lake Management District’s legal challenge against the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The litigation addresses the agency’s continued neglect of its granted authority to issue high-capacity well permits that protect water quality and quantity.

In October 2016, Clean Wisconsin challenged nine high-capacity well applications approved by the DNR (mostly in Wisconsin’s “Central Sands” region) on the basis of the negative impact well pumping would have on lakes, streams and other surface waters. The DNR’s record for all approvals includes the Department’s own findings that the permitted wells would negatively impact these waters protected by the Public Trust Doctrine in our state’s Constitution, including high-quality trout streams.

“The DNR and Department of Justice continue to hold a position that they have no constrained authority to protect public trust waters,” said MEA staff attorney Tressie Kamp. “The courts disagree with the AG’s opinion. The DNR’s alleged lack of authority is bad for our State’s water and the people who depend on our state government to apply sound science to balancing the uses of our limited water resources.”

In this action, Midwest Environmental Advocates represents the Central Sands Water Action Coalition and argues that shared water resources in their communities are constitutionally protected and held in trust by the state and the DNR must protect those resources for the public. The approved wells would impact water quality and quantity as well as property values, the local economy, fishing, and other use and enjoyment of the water. Midwest Environmental Advocates also filed a brief on behalf of the Town of Rome to provide additional perspectives in the Clean Wisconsin v. DNR case.

"As CSWAC’s non-party brief will further detail, the DNR’s extremely restrictive interpretation of its authority to protect public trust waters from the impacts of high-capacity wells endangers the interests of CSWAC’s lake, river, property owner, and other association members," said CSWAC Chair Skip Hansen. "We have worked for years to protect lakes and rivers from the harms of high-capacity wells. Unfortunately, our legislators have chosen to reduce DNR's oversight on high capacity wells, which leaves us with supporting litigation as one of our remaining solutions to this problem."

This case is at the forefront of water protection issues in Wisconsin because of its focus on the Public Trust Doctrine – the constitutional guarantee by the State of Wisconsin to uphold the integrity of our surface waters like lakes, streams and rivers – that the navigable waters of Wisconsin “shall be common highways and forever free, as well to the inhabitants of the state as to the citizens of the United States, without any tax, impost or duty therefor.”

Because our state constitution protects our surface waters, high-capacity well permits that do not protect our water along with a lack of DNR oversight will allow water resources to dry up or degrade in quality. Midwest Environmental Advocates already works with too many individuals who shoulder a financial burden to address water quantity and quality decline, whether related to private water well quality or industry impact upon surface water resources. The concerns expressed by members of CSWAC in the amicus curiae briefs illustrate the impacts inadequate oversight of water pumping have on Wisconsin families.

For more updates, please visit our action page.