A Turning Point or Just Another Study on the Heap?

April 12 was a big day on issues of groundwater pumping impact, as Dr. Ken Bradbury of the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey and Dr. Michael Fienen of the USGS presented their recently completed study. Michelson Theatre at UW-Stevens Point was packed to its 350 seat capacity with water advocates, growers, lobbyists, and elected leaders including state Sens. Julie Lassa and Mark Miller, Reps. Katrina Shankland and Scott Krug, Portage County Executive Patty Dreier, and multiple Portage County Board Supervisors.

Presenter Ken Bradbury (right) with author George Kraft (l) prior to the Little Plover presentation.  (Photo credit Glen Moberg, Wisconsin Public Radio).

This newest study focused on the Little Plover River, which has been plagued by drying and unhealthy flow conditions. Study and modeling work released in 2010 by myself and colleagues found Little Plover distress was due to groundwater pumping, with flow records already demonstrating impacts in the mid-1970s:
https://www.uwsp.edu/cnr-ap/watershed/Documents/littleplover2009.pdf http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1745-6584.2011.00836.x/abstract

Why another study – Verification and Winning Over Disbelievers

Then Wisconsin DNR Water Administrator Ken Johnson put forth the study purpose as  verification and to win over pumping impact disbelievers. Lake and stream advocates balked, citing the heap of studies going back 50 years that warned or demonstrated that unmanaged groundwater pumping would have consequences for central sands lakes and streams.  The advocates also criticized the project for looking at a small part of the central sands that poorly represents the regions around, say, Wolf Lake, Long Lake, Fish Lake, Pleasant Lake, and the myriad of other impacted waters.   DNR’s Johnson maintained course, asserting it would be a mere 1-1/2 year time-out while the study was completed.  But that year and a half time-out morphed into a three and half year delay.

Bradbury and Fienen’s work created a new groundwater flow model. Compared with our earlier model , they incorporated previously unavailable data, enhanced methods for estimating groundwater recharge, and explored how pumping might be optimally be reduced to restore Little Plover flows.  It’s a solid piece of work.

But did the effort live up to DNR’s proposition of verification and winning over disbelievers?

Verification

YES! The Bradbury and Fienen exercise verify the previous Little Plover work.  In our 2009 work and using different methodology, we estimated that pumping was taking from the Little Plover 4.5 cubic feet per second (cfs, which is equal to 7.48 gallons per second).

What did Bradbury and Fienen get?  4.4 cfs!!!

This level of agreement is astounding. And truthfully, probably a little lucky – I would have thought any estimate that came within about 30% would have been darn good.  But my team and I will take the win.  After years of criticism and disparagement, we feel a sense of relief and vindication.

But will this be just another on the heap of studies?

Pumping impact disbelievers abound in pumping stakeholder circles, not to mention on the Wisconsin Senate and Legislature – will this study be the turning point that brings them around?  Or is  the study ignored and tossed onto the study heap?

Initial reactions at the April 12 meeting weren’t encouraging as assertions were made about the hydrologic effects of dams and trees on lakes and streams.

However, if not a turning point, perhaps WPVGA director Tamas Houlihan signaled a bit of a drift, “”We believe there are pumping impacts … however there are a lot of other factors that play into it.”  (What factors?  Spurious notions of dams and trees and drought have been ruled out.)  Admitting impacts, even partially, is a break with recent WPVGA news editorials that dismissed pumping impacts and citizen concerns.
http://www.wisconsinrapidstribune.com/story/opinion/columnists/2015/09/18/science-supports-responsible-high-capacity-well-use/72395736/

Time will tell.

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