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High capacity well application review process

Upon receipt of a high capacity well or dewatering application, the DNR water use program completes the groundwater quantity review, and if the well is potable, the public engineering program conducts an engineering review.

High capacity well application review

On May 1, 2020, Wisconsin's Attorney General issued a letter to the Department withdrawing a 2016 Attorney General Opinion concerning the Department's review of high capacity well applications and the ruling of the Wisconsin Supreme Court in Lake Beulah Management District v. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources [May 1, 2020 AG Letter [PDF exits DNR]]. In accordance with the Attorney General's letter withdrawing the 2016 opinion:

  • The Department will no longer rely on the 2016 Attorney General opinion in evaluating high capacity well applications.
  • In accordance with the Wisconsin Supreme Court's decision in Lake Beulah Management District v. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the Department will act pursuant to its duty to protect and preserve navigable waters under the public trust doctrine. 2011 WI 54, ¶¶ 30-34, 39, 62.
  • The Department will 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. Lake Beulah, 2011 WI 54, ¶¶ 46, 63.

In reviewing a high capacity well application, the Department will consider on a case-by-case basis whether:

  • A proposed high capacity well falls within a groundwater protection area [Wis. Stat. §§ 281.34(4)(a)1. and (5)(b); Wis. Admin. Code § NR 820.30]
  • A proposed high capacity well results in > 95% water loss [Wis. Stat. §§ 281.34(4)(a)2. and (5)(c); Wis. Admin. Code § NR 820.32]
  • A proposed well's construction degrades safe drinking water, degrades the groundwater resource or impacts public safety [Wis. Admin. Code § NR 812.09(4)]
  • A proposed high capacity well, when combined with existing wells, will result in a significant environmental impact to a > 1 cfs spring [Wis. Stat. §§ 281.34(4)(a)3. and (5)(c); Wis. Admin. Code § NR 820.31; See Lake Beulah, 2011 WI 54, ¶¶ 39, 44-46, 62-63]
  • A proposed high capacity well, when combined with existing wells, will result in a significant adverse environmental impact to a navigable water [Wis. Stat. §§ 281.11, 281.12, 281.34(2); See Lake Beulah, 2011 WI 54, ¶¶ 30-34, 39, 44-46, 62-63]
  • A proposed high capacity well, when combined with existing wells, impairs a public water system. [Wis. Stat. §§ 281.11, 281.12, 281.34(5)(a); See Lake Beulah, 2011 WI 54, ¶¶ 39, 44-46, 62-63]

If any of these conditions is met in a particular case, the Department may consider adding specific conditions in the high capacity well approval, such as conditions addressing location, construction, pumping capacity, rate of flow, or amount of water that may be withdrawn. [Wis. Stat. §§ 281.11, 281.12, 281.34(2), (5)(a)-(d); Wis. Adm. Code § NR 812.09(4) and ch. NR 820; Lake Beulah, 2011 WI 54, ¶¶ 4, 39, 63]. If the Department conditions or denies a well approval, it will provide the applicant with a technical analysis of the scientific evidence it considered when it issued its decision on the application.

A description [PDF] of the Department's high capacity well application review process is available.

Litigation on the Department's review of high capacity well applications remain pending. Any updates will be posted on this webpage.