Our industry is one of traditions, but it’s also one of innovation and ingenuity. Our great grandfathers were crystal clear in their agriculture beliefs, “protect the land and protect the water for without both of them, your life as a farmer will be forever forgotten.” That directive is handed down from one generation to the next, and all along the way, we have researched, we have tested and we have implemented water conservation programs and practices that make our farmers and our farms some of the most widely-admired conservationists in the agriculture community.
In the early 1930s, Wisconsin became the home of the first erosion control demonstration project in the country, the wildly successful Coon Creek Watershed in Vernon County. There, the science and art of soil conservation to protect our land, our water, our food and our nation, began.
Source:United States Department of Agriculture
Natural Resources Conservation Service
Potato and vegetable production is a key part of Wisconsin’s agricultural economy. Wisconsin ranks first in the nation in the production of green beans for processing, beets for canning and cabbage for kraut; we rank second in the production of carrots and peas for processing and third in the production of potatoes, sweet com and cucumbers for pickles. Specialty crop production and processing account for $6.4 billion in economic activity and 132,000 direct or indirect jobs. In 2015, Wisconsin produced over 2.8 billion pounds of potatoes valued at $370 million.
The Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association (WPVGA) was founded in 1948 to assist WPVGA members to be successful through education, information, environmentally sound research, promotion, governmental action and involvement. Our 400+ members work together to provide the best Wisconsin potatoes and vegetables for consumers.
The members of the WPVGA are good stewards of our environment. Our members are committed to engaging in continuous improvements in agricultural environmental stewardship. We are devoted to developing science-based solutions to environmental concerns. We firmly believe that science is a critical guide to the development of effective water policy in Wisconsin.
Accordingly, we have compiled a High Capacity Wells -Fact Book as a resource for the discussion of high capacity wells in Wisconsin. The Fact Book contains studies and information that is useful when evaluating the use and effect of high capacity wells for agricultural production in Wisconsin.
1. Irrigated agriculture’s shorter growing-season crops, with low leaf mass and staggered plantings to accommodate processing plant production schedules, provide greater streamflows (recharge) than other types of plant cover from alternate uses of the land, such as pine trees, deciduous trees, grasslands, or non-irrigated agriculture.
2. The process of irrigation lifts pumped water from the deep aquifer and deposits it on the surface via center pivot irrigation systems within a 1320’ radius from the point of withdrawal. From there, the pumped water infiltrates back into the same aquifer from which it was withdrawn. Thus the plants are supplied with water from the deep aquifer rather than the roots of the plants drawing water from the shallower surface water (transient) for the process of evapotranspiration. Transient water is the water that feeds streamflow.
3. Irrigated vegetable crops grown for human food consumption require uniform application of water throughout the growing season to produce the appearance, textures and quality required by food processors and consumers.
4. Without irrigation, the Central Sands vegetable industry would cease to exist. The subsequent use of the land would have a greater or equal impact on streamflow.
5. The WDNR has published its established formula for calculating recharge (streamflow) as follows: “Precipitation + Applied Irrigation – Evapotranspiration = Recharge”
To be complete, the formula must also subtract pumped water, which equals the amount of applied irrigation. Instead, the report states that, “The amount of pumped water is incorporated into groundwater flow models separately.” Stated simply, pumped water is equal to applied irrigation.
6. The Little Plover River (LPR) model was commissioned to ascertain the effects on streamflow from a high capacity well (HCW) or a series of HCW pumping. The model considers pumped water as leaving the aquifer (consumptive use). This is generally true for municipal or industrial wells, but not applicable for irrigation well pumping as that water, in most applications, is returned to the immediate aquifer within a 1320’ radius of its point of withdrawal.
7. The published findings of the LPR Project go beyond the scope of the study and professional expertise of the study’s researchers.
a. The study was limited to calculating the effects of pumped water withdrawal on the LPR streamflow.
b. The study fails to include all the effects of pumped water being returned directly to the immediate aquifer.
Note: The study credits 10-20 percent of the applied irrigation water as recharge to the aquifer and fails to account for the remaining 80-90 percent of applied irrigation water.
c. The study fails to account for the amount of water the crop plants’ root systems under irrigation are not removing from the shallow aquifer’s transient water, which supplies water for streamflow.
d. The study out-steps its bounds by erroneously concluding that removing 15 wells from the system would substantially improve the LPR streamflow by not identifying that the subsequent use of the land would result in equal or greater impact to the LPR streamflow.
8. Studies have documented that the static groundwater table is not diminished by HCW pumping because of the high rate of recharge from precipitation in the region. Fluctuations in transient water tables are the result of climatic conditions.
9. The studies have shown that a static public rights stage cannot be implemented due to fluctuating climatic conditions.
10. The study’s findings and conclusion as published have confused the issue of fluctuating stream flows and lake levels and are being used out of context.
Paul Fowler, Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Technology, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point
Corresponding author: firstname.lastname@example.org
Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Technology (WIST), College of Natural Resources, University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point, WI 54481, USA
Water use by agriculture has become an issue in many areas where groundwater levels have dropped. Because the impact of agricultural water use is a driver of water use policy it is important to understand other factors that may also be impacting groundwater. This paper reports an examination of scientific literature on water use by trees compared to water use by vegetable crops. Evapotranspiration by trees results in significant water loss and interception of precipitation by forest canopy also impacts groundwater recharge. Studies in different geographical areas, including the U.K. and Northern Wisconsin, have shown water use by trees on an annual basis that exceeds the amount used to grow potatoes. Studies in China, the U.K and South Africa predicted that reforestation and afforestation would reduce water available for surface flow or aquifer recharge by as much as 56%. The analysis focuses particularly on Wisconsin, where a six-county area ranks as one of the top vegetable-growing regions of the U.S. and where groundwater levels have become an issue. Reforestation has increased significantly in this area. The researcher concludes that while agricultural water use has undoubtedly increased in Wisconsin over the past 50 years, it may not be either the sole or major source of groundwater depletion and reduced stream flow.
WPVGA Applauds the Passage of Senate Bill 76
The Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association (WPVGA) applauds the State Senate’s passage of Senate Bill 76, the science-based water policy legislation sponsored by Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau).
“This legislation is critical for Wisconsin farmers who rely on high capacity wells to irrigate farmland and feed families across the globe,” said WPVGA Executive Director Tamas Houlihan. “It also provides certainty for Wisconsin farmers who rely on the ability to utilize irrigation to grow the nutritious vegetables that are the pride of Wisconsin.”
The legislation maintains Wisconsin’s stringent environmental requirements and well construction standards for repaired, replaced and reconstructed wells. The bill importantly requires the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to conduct a critical study of high capacity wells and their potential impacts on surface waters in areas in the Central Sands region of Wisconsin.
“This scientific study will assist with the development of future voluntary measures or regulatory changes and will make sure those decisions are guided by science,” said Houlihan. “Wisconsin farmers were strong advocates for this legislation and we commend Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald for his leadership in authoring SB 76. In addition, the amendment to refine the study area authored by Senator Testin further enhances the quality of the science that will be developed as a result of this legislation.”
Houlihan said he and members of his association are hopeful the bill will see swift passage by the State Assembly this spring.
Groundwater Task Force Accomplishments 2012-2013
The Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Grower Association (WPVGA) Groundwater Task Force was formed in 2009 in response to growing concerns over the potential impact of irrigated agriculture, climate, urbanization, and other factors on the groundwater aquifer and surface waters of the Central Sands. The focus of the Task Force is to bring together resources and expertise to foster the sustainable use of water resources. The Task Force is chaired by Nick Somers (Plover River Farms) and Jeremie Pavelski (Heartland Farms).
Task Force Goals:
Objective 1: Consolidate and build on the extensive existing knowledge-base related to the hydrogeology of the Central Sands and the potential impacts of water use, drainage, climate and other factors on the groundwater aquifer and associated surface water bodies.
Established a program to monitor groundwater elevations in privately owned irrigation wells both across the Central Sands and over time.
Purchased and installed equipment to continuously monitor groundwater fluctuations in nested groups of wells placed in areas designated as high risk for surface water impacts (Little Plover, Long Lake, Pleasant Lake).
Commissioned a study of the hydrogeology of Long Lake by the UW-Extension Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey (WGNHS) to improve understanding of the formation of tunnel channel lakes and the impact of clay layers deposited in their formation on groundwater-surface water interaction.
Volunteered staff time to work with the DNR to monitor stream flow and lake levels (2013-14).
Engaged independent hydrogeologist Charlie Andrews to assess strengths and weaknesses of ongoing Task Force activities and examine groundwater issues and solutions in other parts of the US that may be applicable to the Central Sands.
Conducted a water management survey to establish a baseline of grower practices in irrigation and identify areas for potential improvement.
Commissioned, tested, and implemented new irrigation scheduling software.
Evaluated site-specific, precision irrigation based on variability of soil moisture holding capacities across fields.
Conducted on-farm research on potential for deferred irrigation.
Conducted research on drip irrigation for high water use crops.
Investigated the potential for re-designing the century old drainage system in the Central Sands to reduce water loss and increase recharge.
Investigated year-round water consumption of irrigated crops, natural vegetation, and bare soil.
Established a digital data-base that tracks land use across the Central Sands from 2003–present to identify changes in landscapes and potential relationships to water fluctuations.
Objective 4: Communicate Task Force activities and accomplishments to the farming community, the citizens of the Central Sands, and the people of Wisconsin, and seek broad input from all concerned parties to determine potential solutions.
In 2013, the Task Force continued to communicate activities and accomplishments to farmers and citizens of Wisconsin and seek input on potential solutions.
Funding Sources: The activities described in this report were funded through a combination of research grants and direct grower funding. We acknowledge the contributions of the following grants and organizations: WPVGA, MWFPA, CALS Hatch, Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Agriculture, Midwest SARE Program, UWEX, Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey, NRCS CIG program, SCRI Block Grant program, Wisconsin Groundwater Coordinating Council and Wisconsin DNR.
Did you know trees use more water than vegetables? Learn the facts about farmers’ water use and how they monitor it with up-to-date technology.