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Lake Levels In Central Wisconsin Take A Hit From High-Capacity Wells

July 21, 2013

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I grew up in Hancock, Wisconsin, a place that is featured in my book that is soon to be published.  In my youth I recall the beauty of Pine Lake, and Fish Lake.  They were full of water, and brimming with activity.  Though I did not swim I recall many times riding my bike to the lakes and wading in the cool water while looking out at the beautiful views.  Over the years those lakes have shrunk, and many are left to ask if they again will ever resemble what they once were.  But it is not just the lakes of my personal memory that are impacted by some very bad decisions that man has made over the course of time.  The lakes across a large area of the state are feeling the negative impact of farmers who have turned to high-capacity wells to make money from their fields.

The wells are drawing down ground and surface water, and creating as a result lower lake levels that impacts local homeowners, the tourism economy, and also those who like to see one of God’s perfect creations.  There is nothing like sitting along a lake, and contemplating life while reading a book.

In  the area where I grew up the conversation about high-capacity wells is taking one a louder tone, and is pitting farmers against those who wish for a more considerate and wise use of natural resources.  The numbers speak for themselves when looking at the menacing side of these wells.  In the early 1950s, there were fewer than 100 high-capacity wells in the Central Sands, while today there are more than 3,000.  That is a 40% of the state’s total — in just a six-county area!

Long Lake has lost its shoreline. Dock after dock dead-ends in the weeds. This small lake in the Central Sands of Wisconsin looks more like an unmowed lawn with a pond in the middle than a place where families used to water ski and fish. The lake used to be up to 12 feet deep. Now it is closer to 3 feet.

“Long Lake was once a trophy bass lake. So when we moved here, in the first two years, my boys were catching bass like crazy,” said Brian Wolf, who owns a cabin on Long Lake. “It was like catching fish in a barrel as the water declined.”

In 2006, the lake dried up completely and all the fish, including 3-foot-long northern pikes, died in the mud. Homeowners like Wolf lost their lake and more than half their property values.

Across central Wisconsin, in a region known as the Central Sands, residents have watched water levels in lakes and small streams drop for years.

Twenty miles north of Long Lake, a six-mile-long coldwater trout stream, the Little Plover River, just landed on a list of America’s 10 most endangered rivers because of its declining flow.

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