By LeAnn R. Ralph
MENOMONIE — If there is no baseline data, how can the state Department of Natural Resources consider the cumulative impact of high capacity wells on the groundwater level?
The United States Geological Survey is planning a tri-county groundwater monitoring pilot study in Dunn, Chippewa and Eau Claire counties, said Neil Koch, a retired hydrogeologist with USGS, at the Dunn County Planning, Resources and Development Committee’s April 28 meeting.
Koch is a resident of the Town of Menomonie and serves on the Menomonie Town Board.
PR&D committee members agreed that Dunn County should participate in the groundwater study.
The pilot study would use five groundwater monitoring devices in each county to gather background data on groundwater levels, Koch said.
The cost would be $2,500 for five well monitoring devices.
Koch cited a decision last year by Administrative Law Judge Jeffrey Boldt concerning the DNR’s consideration of an application for a high capacity well for a large dairy in Adams County in central Wisconsin.
In his decision, Judge Boldt ruled that the DNR “took an unreasonably limited view of its authority” and failed to adequately consider “basic science” in failing to consider the cumulative impacts of high capacity wells on groundwater levels.
Adams County is in the Central Sand region of the state where heavy irrigation and other water uses have reduced groundwater levels, which has impacted rivers, lakes and streams.
In this part of the country, groundwater discharges to surface water, and if the groundwater level is reduced enough, streams and lakes can go dry.
The western states are all now looking at the cumulative impacts of groundwater use, Koch told the PR&D committee.
By contrast, the eastern part of Wisconsin in the Central Sand region is “now in a groundwater crisis,” he said.
Photographs from that area of Wisconsin show meadows of grass where there were once lakes and wetlands with open water.
If there is a request for another high capacity well in Dunn County, the DNR needs to consider the cumulative impact, “but there is zero data now,” Koch said.
The monitoring devices would provide information about the current groundwater level in Dunn County, he said.
If data is gathered over multiple years, then there will be information about whether the groundwater level is decreasing so the DNR will have data to consider for the cumulative impact, Koch said.
“It can happen here in Dunn County. It’s happening in eastern Wisconsin,” he said.
If the DNR has adequate data, then DNR officials will be able to make decisions to protect existing high capacity wells, Koch said.
“Because of dewatering, all wells (would be) in danger,” he said.
Kitz Cleary, county board supervisor from Colfax and a member of the PR&D committee, wondered where the highest concentration of high capacity wells is currently in Dunn County.
The most high capacity wells are located in the southeastern part of the county, Koch said.
“There has been no monitoring going on, so we don’t know if another well would hurt,” he said.
Koch said he had done a presentation for the Dunn County Towns Association meeting the night before and that a number of town chairs had expressed interest in having a well monitoring device in their townships.
If at least some of the townships purchase their own well-monitoring devices, there would be even more data available, Koch noted.
Bob Walter, county board supervisor from Menomonie and chair of the PR&D committee, wondered who would manage the data collected during the pilot study.
“It is an area that has been ignored and now it needs to un-ignored,” Walter said.
Amanda Hanson, Dunn County’s newly-hired water quality specialist, would be monitoring the data.
The PR&D committee would have to make a recommendation to the county board’s Committee on Administration for the amount of money requested to participate in the pilot study, Walter said.
If more than five monitoring devices would be useful, now would be the time to ask for them. Dunn County may have the money this year, but the money may not be available in 2016, he said.
“If we can chew a bigger bite, now is the time to consider it,” Walter said.
“We have a great depth of ignorance about water quantity and quality in Dunn County,” Walter said.
The Committee on Administration does not meet again until the end of May, so PR&D committee members agreed to delay making a decision on the request for well monitoring devices until more information is available about the number of devices that would be needed.
Well monitoring devices should be installed in different kinds of wells, such high-capacity wells, municipal wells and residential wells, Koch said.