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Well regulation changes draw interest

A public hearing on a plan that would regulate the biggest wells in Wisconsin drew a big crowd to the state capitol Wednesday. Supporters say it would protect the state's lakes and streams, but some farmers worry it would hurt their livelihood.

A public hearing on a plan that would regulate the biggest wells in Wisconsin drew a big crowd to the state capitol Wednesday. Supporters say it would protect the state's lakes and streams, but some farmers worry it would hurt their livelihood.

Long Lake is a place that gets brought up a lot when this bill gets discussed. That's because the Washburn County Lake has gone dry. Dan Trudell calls it a "puddle grown over with weeds." His family has a cottage about a mile away on Huron Lake, where he says the area and the depth of the lake has been decreasing for more than a decade. He blames the rise in high capacity wells in the central sands region that covers both lakes.

Trudell wants the legislature to step in. He says what's happening in the central sands area is an early warning of what will happen in other areas of the state unless measures are taken to balance the water budget.

A plan Democratic state lawmakers are considering would set up "water budgets" where they're needed to protect groundwater. The state could designate cases like Long Lake as "groundwater management areas" that would give a local board set up by the county the power to manage the watershed.

In these areas, that could include restrictions on existing high capacity wells. That bothers dairy farmers like Jim Mlsna of Vernon County. He says he's befuddled why professional environmental groups want to help write a law that threatens the lifeblood of the dairy business, as dairy farms need water and support clean water.

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Mlsna and other farmers also complained about how the bill could potentially set up different local water regulations in different parts of the state. Sponsors say that idea is a recognition that there's no one-size-fits all regulation when it comes to water. They hope to pass the plan before the legislature finishes its regular business later this month.

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