Spring Lake resident would like his pond back

To the editor,

I’ve been camping and fishing on the lakes of Waushara County since I was a teenager.  Shortly after my parents retired to Coloma, about 40 years ago, my brother and I bought 40 acres of abandoned farmland with two beautiful ponds.  

We had wood ducks in a nesting box our neighbor put up for us and there was an abundance of wildlife dependent on the ponds. Our neighbor to the south also had a pond and had part of it dredged to about 15 feet deep. 

About 20 years ago we noticed the family farms around us disappeared, literally. They were bought out to make industrial sized farms. Wood lots disappeared, hills were flattened, buildings torn down, and then what looked like giant lawn sprinklers appeared all around us.

About five years later we noticed there was less and less water in ponds even when we had above average rainfall. Our neighbor’s pond shrank too. Five years later, our ponds became intermittent and about 10 years ago they disappeared permanently. 

Those ponds survived during the extreme drought of the late seventies, the worst drought in our history. The representatives of the corporate agricultural community had been claiming for 20 years that high-capacity wells supplying those gigantic sprinkler systems in the central sands region weren’t responsible for lowering the water table because they were tapping an aquafer deep underground and it didn’t affect the surface water. They are no longer able to hide behind that lie and I no longer believe a word they say.

Even before our ponds were affected, many of the lakes in western Waushara County were 3 to 5 feet lower than when I fished them as a young man. There are over 3,000 high capacity wells in the central sands region, nearly a third of the total for the entire state. Some lakes and streams have disappeared completely and, with no reasonable controls on permits for high-capacity wells, the rest will disappear too.

Water is more like the air than land. Water is not static; it flows like air, though considerably more slowly. So when someone near my land pumps large quantities of water from underground they are stealing my water. They have no right to the water under my land; it belongs to all of us, not just those with the biggest pumps and deepest wells. Even some farmers agree because they see a time, not too far into the future, when nearly all of the water will be used up. Even if the amounts of water being taken from underground are dramatically reduced, it will take decades to be replaced naturally.

To be fair, there are some large farming operations trying to use less water by using more efficient irrigation systems, planting less water intensive crops, and using better water management practices. But, that will never be enough if conserving water is voluntary. I won’t see it in my lifetime, but I want my ponds back. That can only happen if we have compressive legislation that promotes the equitable and sustainable use of Wisconsin’s water.

/s/ Arnie Wilke, Spring Lake, Waushara County, Township of Marion