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Wisconsin water withdrawals

Water withdrawal occurs when someone takes water from a surface or groundwater source making it unavailable for other purposes, even if only temporarily. All property owners in Wisconsin capable of withdrawing 100,000 gallons of water per day are required to register and report these withdrawals.

Statewide, there are over 14,000 registered high capacity sources including over 13,000 groundwater and 1,000 surface water sources. Locations and volumes of past reported withdrawals can be viewed using the Water Use Viewer.

withdrawals by source

Withdrawal sources

The sources for Wisconsin withdrawals vary depending on the where the withdrawal takes place. East of the Great Lakes basin Divide, a large majority of the water withdrawn is taken directly from Lake Michigan to supply cooling water for electric power generation and for municipal water supplies. West of the divide in the Mississippi River basin, ground water plays a much bigger role in supplying municipal public supplies and agricultural irrigation. There are relatively few withdrawals made in Wisconsin’s portion of the Lake Superior basin.

Power — public — produce — paper

Wisconsin water withdrawals are put to a wide range of uses. Among these, the largest water use categories are power generation, municipal public water supply, agricultural irrigation and paper manufacturing.

2014 withdrawals by use

Annual withdrawals average about 2 trillion gallons of water. This volume is roughly:

  • three times the volume of water in Lake Winnebago;
  • enough to cover the surface area of Wisconsin in 2 inches of water;
  • 1.4 times the average annual flow in the Wisconsin River past the Dells; and
  • enough water to fill Lambeau Field about 4,700 times.

Report collection

All registered property owners are required to submit monthly withdrawals totals every year to the Department of Natural Resources by March 1.

The DNR receives about 14,000 reports each year and attains a response rate of over 95 percent. Over two-thirds of these reports are submitted through our online reporting system while the remainder are submitted on paper forms mailed to the owner. Most owners rely on flow or hour meters to measure withdrawals. Those without meters either estimate or calculate their withdrawals with a method approved by the DNR.

Low capacity wells

In addition to registered sources, the DNR estimates that there over 800,000 unregistered low capacity wells serving private homes, farms and businesses. These smaller withdrawals are usually less than 20 gallons per minute in capacity and typically withdraw up to several hundred gallons per day. They are not required to be registered unless they are on a property with a total withdrawal capacity exceeding 100,000 gallons per day. The total withdrawn for these sources is roughly estimated at 50 – 75 billion gallons per year.

Previous summaries
For more information regarding the Water Use Reporting program or to request more specific information on withdrawals, please contact:
Water Use Program
WI Department of Natural Resources
Water Use Section DG/5
PO Box 7921
Madison WI 53707-7921
Last revised: Wednesday March 07 2018