Wisconsin Supreme Court Limits Water Regulations

In a decision that could have potentially far-reaching consequences, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled earlier this week that cities cannot impose water restrictions and regulations beyond those contained in state law.

Across the Midwest, farmers and local communities are facing an increasingly severe drought. States like Indiana are facing the hottest summer and record and across the region rainfall is well below average. With water resources becoming increasingly scarce, many communities are looking to toughen up water regulations, hoping to prevent widespread agricultural pollution to increasingly important groundwater reserves.

The Wisconsin case dates back to 2007. Magnolia, a small town located south of Madison, granted a local dairy farm permission to expand, on the condition that the farm submit to monthly water quality tests and agree to crop rotation to limit nitrate buildup. The conditions were imposed because of complaints from local townspeople, who claimed that the farm was polluting the town’s water supply.

After receiving approval to expand, the farm sued, claiming that the town’s regulations exceeded state law and that individual communities can’t change pollution control measures. The Supreme Court agreed with the farm, claiming that local towns can’t tie permit granting procedures to regulatory measures exceeding state law.

Many local residents are upset by the ruling, with the lead plaintiff in the case stating, “A township should have the right to establish guidelines to keep its people safe, but it doesn’t. Those of us who are being affected, it’s like there’s nothing we can do.”

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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer