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DNR Begins Reviewing Environmental Impacts in High-Capacity Well Applications

Attorney General Kaul Withdraws Previous A.G. Opinion Preventing DNR From Such Considerations

By Wisconsin Lakes Staff

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources recently announced that it would begin considering environmental impacts when reviewing applications for high-capacity wells. In a June 2, 2020 press release, the agency said it would begin doing so “pursuant to its duty to protect and preserve navigable waters under the public trust doctrine,” a duty upheld by the Wisconsin Supreme Court in its Lake Beulah Management District v. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources decision from 2011.

The department stated that it would, “make a fact-specific determination in each case and will consider environmental impacts when reviewing a proposed high capacity well application if presented with sufficient concrete, scientific evidence of potential harm.”

Previously, WDNR did not consider environmental impacts of high-capacity wells because of an Attorney General’s Opinion issued shortly after the Beulah decision that it did not have the statutory authority to do so. Current Attorney General Josh Kaul withdrew that opinion, made by his predecessor, in the face of two court decisions that rejected the opinion’s reasoning, thus freeing up DNR to meet its duty to review environmental impacts.

As high-capacity well permits are subject to little future review upon renewal, Wisconsin Lakes has long argued that understanding a well’s impact on the environment in context with existing wells and other factors is of the utmost importance to balance the needs of all water users. We welcome WDNR’s actions to begin review environmental impacts.