Water Conservation

In northeast Wisconsin, our water supplies and water quality are becoming more limited, despite our region's water abundance. We take water for granted, when we need to conserve and protect it for future generations. Water conservation needs to become second nature to all of us.

We have enjoyed two major sources: surface waters (lakes and streams) and underground water. Unfortunately, both can have serious limits or drawbacks. In 1994, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) issued a study which found that: "…there is a growing concern about the overall availability of good quality groundwater for municipal, industrial, agricultural and domestic use and for adequate base flow to our lakes, streams and wetlands."

The WDNR cited several cases around Wisconsin where wells, natural springs and valuable wetlands have gone dry; lake levels have dropped; flow has been reduced to popular trout streams and other waterways; and contamination has prevented installation of new wells.

They also noted severe water supply problems in the Fox River Valley and northeast Wisconsin, due to dropping groundwater levels and growing contamination problems from natural minerals (such as arsenic, sulfate, iron, radium, and high acidity) which have been disturbed by drilling and pumping. These contaminants are spreading into our groundwater supplies.

Surface waters are also limited. Researchers report that current water consumption rates from the five Great Lakes exceed the ability of the lakes to replenish themselves. This water loss could be compounded by the drying effects of global warming in coming years.

According to the WDNR, total groundwater withdrawal from over 11,000 high capacity wells in Wisconsin during 2017 was 202 billion gallons per year (Bgal/yr). The brunt of the groundwater withdrawal was for municipal public water with 45.4% and for agricultural irrigation with 32.0%. The total withdrawal is lower than previous years during the peak of high capacity wells in 2012 at over 13,000; withdrawing 292 Bgal/yr statewide. The drop is partially due to changes in legislation on high capacity wells in recent years. However, these regulations are being undermined.

On January 1, 2017, Governor Scott Walker signed Senate Bill 76, which lowered state regulations on high capacity wells. The bill strips the WDNR’s regulatory ability to evaluate the effects of existing wells on the environment when they are being replaced or sold. Allowing the DNR to evaluate high capacity wells in these instances is crucial since high capacity well permits never expire. In addition to decreasing ground water supplies, high capacity wells have been shown to deplete nearby bodies of water such as lakes and streams. Environmental effects such as these need to be evaluated to protect Wisconsin’s water supply and aquatic habitats.

We all need to learn new water conservation techniques and demand better governmental policies toward this precious resource. Legislation for high capacity wells must continue to be created in open hearings with opportunity for public comment. All citizens of Wisconsin have a shared right to this resource. The needs of industrial farms, the mining industry, and other high demand uses must not diminish that right.

Links to More Information

Wisconsin Water Use: 2017 Withdrawal Summary - https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/WaterUse/documents/WithdrawalReportDetail2017.pdf

Wisconsin Water Use Data – http://wi.water.usgs.gov/data/wateruse.html

Studies on Surface Water Depletion in Wisconsin -

Water Quantity and Use in the Great Lakes Region - https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/wateruse/withdrawalsummary.html

© Clean Water Action Council

P.O. Box 9144

Green Bay, WI 54308

(920) 421-8885

Office location:
A307 MAC Hall, UW-Green Bay
2420 Nicolet Drive
Green Bay, WI 54311