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SB 76 brings Grassroots groups together in defense of the waters of Wisconsin

Posted by Criste Greening
Criste Greening
Small business owner, public school teacher, and now citizens water activist. A
User is currently offline
on Sunday, 30 April 2017
in Wisconsin

Section 22 of the Wisconsin constitution states, “The blessings of a free government can only be maintained by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality and virtue, and by frequent recurrence to fundamental principles” yet elected officials in Madison will ignore this cornerstone of the Wisconsin constitution on May 2nd and likely pass SB 76, or the ‘Death by 1,000 Straws,’ high capacity well bill. Citizens and grassroots groups from around the state are calling for their elected officials to vote ‘no’ on SB 76 because permanently granting high capacity well permits without state oversight is in violation of their oath of office to uphold the state’s constitution.

For over a century citizens of Wisconsin have relied on the State Constitution for its protections and safeguards from overzealous and overreaching governmental policies and political parties.  Enshrined in the constitution is the Public Trust Doctrine, which states that our elected officials must act as trustees of Wisconsin’s waters for its citizens. As trustees, they have a duty to care for, manage, improve, and protect the water for the benefit of the citizens. It is this time-honored and foundational component of our state’s constitution that is in the cross-hairs of SB 76.  Any elected official who votes ‘yes’ on May 2nd will be acting in direct conflict with their role as trustee of Wisconsin’s waters.

The lack of reasonable moderation in SB 76’s fast-tracking through the Legislature is alarming. Undue industry influence (to the tune of nearly a quarter million dollars in just the last legislative session) has likely driven the fast-tracking and passage of SB 76.  This bill has been assigned to inapproriate committees, had a joint hearing in front of Senate and Assembly committees, was voted out of the Senate Committee by secret paper ballot (which did not allow for the introduction of commonsense amendments), and the purposeful misleading of citizens and other elected officials with false facts and biased information has been disheartening.


Senator Scott Fitzgerald and other supporters of SB 76 claim this bill is a necessary response to industry's need for “regulatory certainty” for high capacity wells (HCW) that may need to be replaced, maintained, repaired, or transferred illustrates a clear disregard for the facts.  Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) records simply do not support these claims as outlined in prior press statements shared by numerous groups.


Wisconsin Legislators have been misleading both constituents and coworkers stating the WDNR will still have authority to review and condition HCW under statute 281.34 (7).  Which states:
Modifying and rescinding approvals for high capacity wells. The approval of a high capacity well issued under this section or under s. 281.17 (1), 2001 stats., remains in effect unless the department modifies or rescinds the approval because the high capacity well or the use of the high capacity well is not in conformance with standards or conditions applicable to the approval of the high capacity well. This statute grants authority to review or rescind only when a HCW is being used outside the guidelines of its current permit.


There are HCWs in operation today that are pumping within the confines of their permit and, in spite of those permitting conditions,  are significantly impacting area lakes and streams.  This standard does not grant the WDNR the authority to condition or restrict pumping from a current HCW due to its impacts on local water resources.  Mischaracterizing this provision as a remedy for citizens who are impacted by overpumping is a false claim meant to mislead the public. WDNR has been questioned about this scenario repeatedly and has verified that Statute 281.34(7) does not grant them the authority to impose pumping conditions if the HCW is functioning within the confines of its permit.


Finally, supporters of this bill note State Statute 30.03 relating to the enforcement of forfeitures; abatement of nuisances; infringement of public rights as an additional avenue for those affected by HCW overpumping. WDNR representatives indicate abatement through statute 30.03 is an unrealistic avenue for their department due to time factors, personnel limitations, and court costs associated with processing such a suit. Once again the burden and expense is passed on to citizens to battle through the courts, which is often an unattainable and burdensome option.


In effect, SB 76 would turn high capacity well permits into eternal unreviewed and unalterable permits, regardless of their impacts on local watersheds or surrounding wells.  These essentially permanent permits are especially alarming when we consider that the WDNR is permitting HCWs without accounting for their cumulative impacts.


Passage of SB 76 will exacerbate this situation and means once again citizens will have to go to court to affirm and regain their constitutional right to their reasonable use of the waters of the state. They have had to do this before and the courts have upheld that right every time.  Despite this clear mandate, our WDNR relies on a non-binding opinion by Attorney General Schimel rather than following the constitution, the courts, and the broad statutory authority granted to the department by the state legislature.


There are common sense solutions for protecting our precious groundwater that provide sufficient water for all users and respect property rights.  This, however, would require a much more holistic and comprehensive groundwater management law.  In its current state, far from solving the issues, this bill would simply lock in the current problems homeowners, citizens, and wildlife face from increased high-capacity pumping.


Wisconsin residents from nearly every county in the state are represented by the organizations united in this message.  We deserve fair representation and legislation that ensures surface and groundwater will be here for generations to come. Elected officials are sworn to uphold the Wisconsin state constitution and any legislation, like SB 76, that endangers the Public Trust Doctrine is in direct violation of their oath of office. Wisconsin citizens from across the state have signed on to this statement and expect our representatives in Madison to protect the citizen interests over big industry donors who are buying preferential legislation.

On behalf of the groups listed below and the thousands of citizens we represent statewide, we ask that you vote “no” to SB 76.


Citizens' Water Coalition of Wisconsin

Sustain Rural Wisconsin Network

Wild Rivers Chapter Trout Unlimited

Friends of the Central Sands

Frac Sand Mining Awareness

Crawford Stewardship Project

Protect Wood County & its Neighbors

Save The Hills Alliance

Kewaunee CARES

People Empowered Protect the Land (PEPL) of Rosendale

Green County Defending Our Farmland

Central Wisconsin Nature Foundation

Citizen Action Organizing Cooperative

Facing Forward Vernon Our Wisconsin Revolution

Inland Sea Society

From the Earth

Indivisible Fond du Lac

Protect Our Water

Friends of the Kinni

Concerned Rome Citizens

Rome Saratoga Friendly

Indivisible Winnebago

Central Sands Water Action Coalition

Forward Kenosha

Rinehart Lake Association

Farms Not Factories

Spirit Creek Water Protectors

Indivisible Milwaukee ~ South Side

Bad River Watershed Association

Frac Sand Sentinels

Indivisible Solon Springs

Indivisible DeForest

Concerned Citizens of Princeton

Citizens for a Better Environment Lake Mills

Emerald Clean Water For All

Penokee Hills Education Project

Penokee Hills Light Brigade

Water Protectors of Milwaukee

Friends of the Eau Claire Lakes Area

Citizens for Environmental Stewardship

Indivisible Ashland

Heartland Land Creations

League of Women Voters of Ashland and Bayfield Counties

LCO/Sawyer County Dems

Preserve Waupaca County

League of Women Voters Upper Mississippi RIver Region

Crystal Lake Club

Friends of the Tomorrow /Waupaca River

Waupaca Commoners Caucus

Constituents Only

Defending Our Ixonia Countryside

Vernon County Democratic Party

Citizens for Safe Water Around Badger

Gaia Coalition

Concerned Citizens of Easton

League of Women Voters/Greater Chippewa Valley

Clean Water Action Council of Northeast Wisconsin

Organic Consumers Association

Blue Jean Nation

Wisconsin Resources Protection Council

Echo Valley Hope

Madison Action for Mining Alternatives

Reedsburg Area Concerned Citizens



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Passage of SB 76 ‘Death By 1,000 Straws’ Illustrates Pay-For-Play Legislation in Madison

Posted by Criste Greening
Criste Greening
Small business owner, public school teacher, and now citizens water activist. A
User is currently offline
on Monday, 10 April 2017
in Wisconsin

hicap-longlakeWisconsin State Senators, in a party-line vote, passed SB 76 on April 4th. Sustain Rural Wisconsin Network (SRWN) believes that the passage of SB 76 illustrates the power of the Industrial Agriculture’s lobbying dollars over the Public Trust Doctrine and citizen’s rights to Wisconsin’s water resources.


Undue industry influence drove the fast-tracking and passage of SB 76. According to lobbying reports from the last two legislative sessions, the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers, Wisconsin Pork Association, Dairy Business Association, Wisconsin Farm Bureau, and Wisconsin Cranberry Growers spent $244,282 in lobbying efforts for high-capacity well legislation (data for the current legislative session is not available until June 2017). Mary Dougherty, president of SRWN, calls the influence of Big Ag’s lobbying dollars and passage of SB 76 “an outright threat to citizens’ right to have certainty that when we turn our faucet, we have water flowing from the tap; that our property values will not be harmed by our wells drying up; and the lakes, rivers and streams we love are not sucked dry by industrial agriculture.”


SB 76 is a solution in search of a problem. Bill supporters frequently cite the need for ‘regulatory certainty’ for high capacity wells (HCW) that need to be replaced, maintained, repaired, or transferred yet DNR records do not support these claims. Adam Freihoefer, DNR Water Use Section Chief, offered the following data about high capacity wells:


  • Since 2011, the department approved an average of approximately six replacement wells per year.

  • In 2016, the department processed approximately 65 property transfers.  On average, we estimate that there are approximately 50 to 100 property transfers per year.

  • High capacity well reconstruction is relatively rare and we are only notified of a few per year.


Freihoefer went on to state, “A replacement high capacity well would constitute an emergency under certain circumstances (e.g. well failure after crop has been planted, cattle need water, etc.). If the applicant can verify that an emergency condition exists and they provide the DNR with the necessary application materials, the Department has typically provided an answer regarding approval within 1-2 days.” Given the 13,000 HCW permits in Wisconsin, the actual transfers, repairs and replacement of HCW are negligible (between .0005 to .008 percent of all HCW) and do not warrant sweeping legislative change.


The progression of SB 76 through the Senate calls Wisconsin’s proud heritage of transparent and honest democratic governance into question. Despite objections from two members of the Senate Committee on Labor and Regulatory Reform, SB 76 was voted out of committee by paper ballot, a process that does not allow for discussion or introduction of amendments prior to voting among committee members. In addition, Senator Ringhand’s (D-15) two amendments, which were submitted to Senator Nass (R-11) in good order and on time, were not voted on or discussed by committee members because of Nass’ decision to use paper ballots. Finally on April 4th, when Senator Testin (R-24) was asked what environmental groups he consulted with about his amendment, he stated, “There are several organizations...George Kraft, Ken Bradbury and then some of the environmental groups...like Friends of the Central Sands.” However, both George Kraft and Bob Clarke, President of Central Sands, stated that they had never spoken to nor been contacted by Senator Testin.

SRWN asks the Assembly Committee on Agriculture to take the time to properly consider the ramifications of SB 76’s accompanying bill, AB 105, and make appropriate amendments in an executive session. Forest Jahnke, Vice-President of SRWN, wants the Assembly “to make every effort to ensure that Wisconsin citizens are given the opportunity to engage in the democratic process and any discussion and/or voting be done with full transparency.”

AB105 amendments should include:

  • Periodic review of existing high capacity wells.

  • The ability and authority to enable the DNR to adjust reviewed permits to meet current conditions and water balance issues.

  • An expanded study area that will include the entire Central Sands.

  • No Section 4(3)g, which takes away a citizen’s right to contest a DNR decision.

Wisconsin residents deserve fair representation and legislation that ensures surface and groundwater will be here for generations to come. Elected officials are sworn to uphold the Wisconsin state constitution and any legislation, like SB 76, that endangers the Public Trust Doctrine is in direct violation of their oath of office. SRWN expects our representatives in Madison to protect citizen interests over big industry donors who are attempting to buy preferential legislation.


Media Contact

Mary Dougherty | President, Sustain Rural Wisconsin Network
p: 651.253.9352 | e: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


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