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Skepticism greets groundwater protection group

Paul Snyder
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Developers and community officials alike are wary of the state Legislature’s new work group on groundwater protection.

The work group will focus on protecting drinking water, lakes, rivers, streams and wetlands, said state Sen. Neal Kedzie, R-Elkhorn, a member of the group formed last week to update groundwater protection rules. But developers and community officials — fearful of state mandates that restrict their activities — will be watching the group closely.

“Even when you’re talking about well construction and how much water you can draw to a development, that’s a big issue for developers in rural areas,” said Brad Boycks, director of government and political affairs for the Wisconsin Builders Association. “They want to know what ability they’ll have to supply water to a new subdivision.”

The problem with creating state rules is water conservation efforts relating to new developments can be a very localized, said Scott Kugler, Sun Prairie’s director of planning.

“There would be substantial areas around the city that could be impacted if you say you can’t develop in high groundwater areas,” he said. “We’re not in any kind of crisis mode with our groundwater supply, but there are other areas in the state that are.

“I always cringe when I hear about a new state mandate, because in a hundred different communities, you’re dealing with a hundred different situations.”

Kedzie said that kind of mind-set drove previous attempts to update state groundwater protection laws to a dead end.

“It’s a matter of getting people to understand that they’re not competitors but playing on the same team,” said Kedzie, a member of a similar work group in 2003. The 2003 work group drafted basic groundwater protection legislation that became law in 2004. The new group was formed with the idea of building on that work.

Kedzie said one of the problems that sidelined previous Legislative debate was trying to balance water usage from the Plover River. Although the surrounding area had a large agricultural base, development in the village led to disputes over water use.

If the state forces change on communities that have been working in a certain way for decades, Kugler said, resistance will occur.

But, Kedzie said, lawmakers must search for agreement between state and local levels. He suggested the new work group might consider requiring communities to work water conservation efforts into their long-range development plans.

Kugler said Sun Prairie, which is completing its long-range development blueprint, included planning for groundwater management areas based on county standards for storm-water management. If the state mandates groundwater conservation requirements for municipalities, he said, developers might recoil.

“Property owners and developers take this kind of issue very seriously,” Kugler said. “On one hand, you don’t like to have the state making everybody play by the same rules. But on the other hand, how much harder is this to enforce at the local level alone?”

The Legislature’s new seven-member work group is led by state Rep. Spencer Black, D-Madison, and state Sen. Mark Miller, D-Monona.

It’s too early to determine what will come from the group or when, but Kedzie said previous shortcomings and intergovernmental disputes need to be used as building blocks and not deterrents.

“We have the opportunity to be a lot smarter,” he said. “We just need a willingness to be open.”

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