Farms’ thirst for water roils Wisconsin’s central sands

Cows on a farm

Lake property owners and farmers in Wisconsin are clashing over a proliferation of high-capacity wells.

It’s a fight no one expected to see in Wisconsin, where water has always been taken for granted. But farmers and large livestock operations have been sinking more and more wells over the last three decades to ensure larger yields and to keep cattle hydrated.

There are almost 13,000 in the state now. Lake property owners and conservationists say the wells are pulling so much water they’re depleting lakes and streams. They warn of plummeting property values and the loss of tourism.

Farmers say there’s no hard evidence wells are causing depletion. Republicans who control the Legislature are on the verge of passing a bill this week that would relax regulations on existing wells.