A northern Wisconsin couple planned to bottle and sell water from a well on their land near Lake Superior, but the proposal was shot down after many residents voiced fears those plans would harm the area watershed.
The Bayfield County Planning and Zoning Committee denied the proposal following a public hearing Thursday, April 15, when residents voiced opposition to the couple’s plans. The plan raised concerns over whether it violated the intent of a landmark agreement that aims to prevent water diversions outside the Great Lakes basin.
Herbster couple Kristle Majchrzak and Robert Glau applied for a conditional use permit with the county in February for their company, Kristle KLR, to install underground storage tanks that would capture water from an artesian well on roughly 40 acres of land in Bayfield County. The water would then be collected by tanker trucks and transported off-site to be bottled at a facility in Superior.
The couple proposed selling the water in Wisconsin and Minnesota, as well as online to customers across the country.
The couple’s plans prompted more than 60 letters of opposition, according to county officials. Some neighbors said the proposal violates the spirit of the Great Lakes Compact. The agreement signed by eight Great Lakes governors in 2008 aims to protect the lakes from threats to divert water outside the basin.
"Our waters are an ecosystem we all share, not a commodity for the profit of a few," Herbster farmer Claire Hintz wrote to the committee. "The Governor's Compact was intended to keep all of the Great Lakes' waters in the watershed."
In communications with the county, Majchrzak said transferring bottled water outside the area is not considered a diversion under Wisconsin law enforcing the compact. State statutes detail "the transfer of bottled water from the Great Lakes basin in containers of 5.7 gallons or less" is not considered a water diversion.
"I have been personally attacked, screamed at, hung up on and called a (liar) for no reason other than trying to start a business," Majchrzak wrote to the committee.
Others said the proposal threatened to undermine the landmark agreement through a "legal loophole."
Majchrzak told the committee Thursday, April 15, she was sensitive to people's concerns and requested more time to gather information to address any issues, urging officials to postpone action.
Linda Nguyen, environmental director for the Red Cliff tribe's Treaty Natural Resources Division, was among those who shared concerns over the lack of details surrounding the project.
Nguyen questioned the source of the water feeding the well, volumes that would be used, and impacts to nearby waterways and wetlands. She said the proposal threatened to set a dangerous precedent for water withdrawals in the area, adding that water is considered a sacred relative in Ojibwe culture that brings life and medicine.
"The withdrawal of water from our watershed without sufficient analysis can lead to detrimental consequences within the watershed and neighboring environments," Nguyen said.
Wisconsin Public Radio can be heard locally on 91.3 KUWS-FM and at wpr.org.
Wisconsin Public Radio, Copyright 2021, Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System and Wisconsin Educational Communications Board.