Northern Wisconsin Using More Water Under Warm, Dry Conditions

Oct 31, 2013

Weather conditions last year caused a spike in water use in northern Wisconsin and statewide.  That’s according to new numbers from the DNR water monitoring program.  

Irrigation is one of the main uses for groundwater in Wisconsin.
Credit John Poyser

DNR water supply specialist Bob Smail says in the northern part of the state one of the biggest increases in surface water use came from cranberry producers.

“Cranberry withdrawals were up.  It was a very warm spring and a lot of growers in the state had to flood their beds to keep their plants from growing too early. So there was an additional withdrawal that they didn’t usually have.”

And thanks to drought conditions, farmers in Langlade County used almost twice as much groundwater in 2012 as in the previous year.  

But despite big draws last year, Smail says groundwater in some areas can bounce back quickly.  Sandy soils like those found in Langlade County let water soak right into the water table. 

“A couple of inches of rainfall over an area – if it isn’t saturated and if it’s well drained, meaning the water soaks in.  A few heavy rainfalls, a really good winter, a lot of snow cover over that winter, can make up for that lost water pretty quickly.”

In rockier areas, water usually runs off into lakes instead of going down to replenish the water table. 

Smail says the DNR’s water monitoring program is relatively new.  He says 2011 is the first year with reliable data.