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Irrigation from high-capacity wells (copy)

High-capacity wells that have been linked to lower surface water are the source of water for irrigation systems like this one watering a cornfield in Waushara County.

The state Senate has approved a Republican bill that would relax high-capacity well regulations.

The Senate voted 19-13 to approve the bill during a rare morning session Wednesday.

The body was poised to vote Tuesday but Democrats used a procedural move to delay the vote until Wednesday morning.

The bill would exempt well repairs, replacements, reconstructions and ownership transfers from state oversight. An existing permit for such a well would never expire.

The bill also calls for the Department of Natural Resources to study lakes and streams in the central sands region to determine whether special measures are needed to protect ground and surface water from depletion.

Conservationists fear the bill will protect problem wells and help deplete state waters.

Republicans say farmers who need high-capacity wells for irrigation deserve regulatory certainty. The bill goes next to the state Assembly.

Among those supporting the bill are the state Dairy Business Association and the Potato and Vegetable Growers Association as well as lobbying groups for other large-scale water users.

Conservationists have objected to allowing years of continued and increased pumping, and pointed out that the study areas covered only about 25 percent of the Central Sands’ protected “exceptional resource waters,” 21 percent of its trout streams and 18 percent of its high-capacity wells.

The legislation is sensitive for lawmakers with constituents who live or vacation in the Central Sands where lakes have receded, leaving docks high and dry. Anglers are concerned about damage to aquatic habitat when water gets too low or disappears.

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