MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Attorney General Josh Kaul has restored the state Department of Natural Resources’ power to consider, when granting permits, whether high-capacity wells might drain area water bodies.
Kaul, a Democrat, has withdrawn former Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel’s 2016 legal opinion finding that the DNR can’t consider the wells’ cumulative effect on nearby streams, rivers and lakes when granting a permit, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
Kaul said in a May 1 letter to DNR Secretary Preston Cole that he withdrew the opinion in response to a Dane County judge’s ruling in 2017.
The judge sided with the environmental-advocacy group Clean Wisconsin and ordered the DNR to invalidate permits for seven high-capacity wells in central Wisconsin. The state Justice Department under Schimel appealed and the state Supreme Court is considering the case. Kaul filed a brief with the court last year reversing the department’s position, saying his administration believes the Dane County ruling should be upheld.
Schimel’s opinion was a victory for agricultural and businesss. Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce has cried foul over Kaul’s decision to withdraw Schimel’s opinion. WMC Exectuive Vice President of Government Relations Scott Manley told the Journal Sentinel that the decision could hurt businesses that need high-capacity wells, including agricultural operations that need to irrigate crops and provide water for thirsty animals.
Amber Meyer Smith, vice president of programs and government relations for Clean Wisconsin, said Schimel’s opinion led to permits that didn’t consider whether wells’ water consumption would avoid long-term harm.
“Since that opinion, the state of Wisconsin has given away billions of gallons of water, virtually unchecked,” she said.