Wisconsin Water Update: Water Use Registration, Reporting & Fees
By Jordan Lamb, DeWitt Ross & Stevens
As a part of the Great Lakes Compact, which became effective in December 2008, the State of Wisconsin embarked on the creation of a statewide water use registration and reporting system. Two administrative rules, NR 850, Water Use Fees, and NR 856, Water Use Registration and Reporting, effective January 2011, establish the processes and fees for this water use registration system and apply to farmers in Wisconsin who meet certain water use thresholds.
Water Use Registration and Reporting – NR 856
Wisconsin administrative rule, NR 856, requires every person, statewide, who has the capacity to withdraw more than 100,000 gallons of water (groundwater OR surface water) per day in any 30 day period to register their water withdrawal with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR). In addition, they must annually report their actual monthly withdrawal amounts to the WDNR. This requirement applies to both surface water and groundwater withdrawals.
Withdrawal capacity for a property is the total capacity, in gallons per day, from all water sources on the property. For purposes of this rule, “one property” means “all contiguous land controlled by one owner, lessee, or any other person having a possessory interest.” Lands under single ownership that are bisected by highways or railroad right-of-ways are considered contiguous.
If a person meets the withdrawal capacity trigger, then the person must register with the WDNR and report their monthly withdrawal amounts to the WDNR each year. These annual reports are due annually by March 1.
Water Use Fees – NR 850
Annual Fee. Under state law and Wisconsin administrative rule NR 850, every person, statewide, who has the capacity to withdraw more than “100,000 gallons [of groundwater or surface water] per day or more in any 30-day period” is required to pay an annual fee of $125. This fee applies regardless of whether 100,000 gallons is actually withdrawn. It is based on capacity to withdraw. This applies uniformly across the state to anyone who meets the capacity threshold.
The $125 fee is assessed “per property.” In most cases, this means “per farm.” Property for purposes of this fee means, “all contiguous land controlled by one owner, lessee, or any other person having a possessory interest.” Lands under single ownership that are bisected by highways or railroad right-of-ways are considered contiguous.
Additional Great Lakes Basin Fee Limited to In-Basin Users. In addition, any person in the Great Lakes Basin who actually withdraws “more than 50,000,000 gallons of water per year” shall pay a “Great Lakes Specific Fee” based on a graduated scale. Link to map of the Basin: https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/WaterUse/documents/glbasin_web.pdf . If you are located within the Great Lakes Basin and you believe that you withdraw more than 50,000,000 gallons of water per year, then you can estimate your fee using a worksheet on the WDNR’s website https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/WaterUse/fees.html.
Fee Payment. Farmers who meet the capacity to withdraw threshold will receive an invoice from the DNR after submitting their annual water withdrawal report. Invoices are due annually by June 30th of each year. Invoices may be paid online. If you have lost your invoice, you may contact the Water Use Program to request a new copy of your invoice or your invoice number.
Small Business Exemption. The annual fee per property for a small business, as defined in S. 227.114 (1), in the Great Lakes Basin is capped at $1125 ($125 base fee + $1,000 Great Lakes Basin fee). Use the “Water Use Fee Cap Certification Form for Small Businesses,” available on the DNR website, to provide documentation of your small business status.
For more information on the assessment and calculation of these fees, open the DNR’s Water Use Fee factsheet available online at: