Groundwater Wars: Potatoes versus Trout

13-09-10 QUEST Groundwater Wars - Long-Lake-no-wake-sign_640px edited
The boat launch at Long Lake, near Plainfield, no longer reaches the water. In Wisconsin's Central Sands, some lakes and streams have lowered or dried up in recent years as the number of high-capacity wells has mushroomed, largely for irrigation. Kate Golden/Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

In a state with about 15,000 lakes and more than a quadrillion gallons of groundwater, it's hard to believe that water could ever be in short supply. But across central Wisconsin, in a region known as the Central Sands, residents have watched water levels in lakes and small streams drop for years. Experts say the culprit is largely the burgeoning number of high-capacity wells, primarily for irrigation.

For some, the question is this: Who needs the water more — the potato plants or the trout?

“We view ourselves as good guys, we’re raising the food, we’re getting dirty doing it, we listen to cowboy songs on the radio, how can we be to blame for anything? It’s not easy confronting that we just might be the bull in the china shop.” — Justin Isherwood, a Central Wisconsin vegetable grower with about a dozen high-capacity wells.

Reporters Kate Prengaman and Kate Golden from the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism cover the story; Water war pits Wisconsin farms against fish

The number of high capacity wells in the Central Sands area of Wisconsin has significantly increased since 1963.