Protecting Wisconsin's Groundwater Through Comprehensive Planning
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Integrate groundwater into your comprehensive plan
  5 steps for integrating groundwater into your plan
  3. Develop Groundwater goals, objectives and policies
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  Tips for writing goals, objectives & policies

• Focus on writing succinct language - keep it simple and brief.
• Avoid writing too many goals and too few objectives and policies.
• Remember there are often multiple objectives and policies under one goal.
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Now that you’ve inventoried groundwater data and analyzed it, what’s next? How do you use this information to lead to on-the-ground actions?

To move toward action we recommend that the community involve as many people and interests as possible to develop groundwater goals, objectives and policies. Plans are as strong as the people who are involved in creating them. The more people who are involved and believe in the plan, the more people who will help make it happen.

To help you start thinking about groundwater goals, consider the table below that describes the relationship of groundwater to other elements of comprehensive planning.

Comprehensive Planning Elements and their Relationship to Groundwater
Issues and Opportunites
Important issues may include:
  • the amount of water needed for future homes, farms & businesses;
  • whether the needed water is available, how it will be provided and at what cost;
  • how growth will affect the future quality and quantity of available groundwater;
  • the need for community wellhead protection planning
  • Additional houses increase the demand for clean water and other services;
  • Paved areas may reduce the amount of groundwater recharge;
  • More homes may mean more fertilizer and pesticide use;
  • The potential for household chemicals or used oil to be dumped on the ground or into septic systems increases.  
  • Decisions must be made on whether new houses will have public sewers or private on-site wastewater disposal systems. See WDNR Fact Sheet 3

New roads needed to serve growing areas may mean:

  • more runoff of water off impervious surfaces that might have recharged groundwater to an increase in impervious surface, leading to more runoff of water that might otherwise have recharged groundwater
  • more salt to keep the new streets safe in winter, which may seep into groundwater;
  • more chemicals leaking from automobiles & entering storm sewers or seeping into the ground.
Utilities and Community Facilities
  • Communities must assess future water needs and the ability of existing systems to meet future needs, including the infrastructure and any environmental limitations to the siting of new wells or reservoirs. See also Economic development below.
Agricultural, Natural and Cultural Resources
  • Groundwater provides the majority of the water in many Wisconsin lakes, streams and wetlands;
  • Pumping municipal, industrial, agricultural or other high-capacity wells may reduce flow to surface water bodies;
  • Agricultural land use may increase potential for groundwater contamination from fertilizers and pesticides;
  • Groundwater information is important in assessing the ability of the resource to sustain growth over the long term.
Economic Development
  • Water demand may increase from new residences and businesses.
  • Water costs may increase due to pumping from deeper aquifers or adding new wells to the system to meet demand
  • New high capacity wells could affect groundwater quantity and sensitive surface water resources.
  • New businesses may have facilities, operations or land use practices that could cause accidental spills or other groundwater contamination.
Intergovernmental Cooperation
  • Because groundwater impacts go beyond political boundaries, a coordinated effort is important to avoid potential problems down the road. Working together can maximize the use and protection of the available water resources.
Land Use
  • Many land uses (agricultural, urban, residential, commercial, industrial) have the potential to impact groundwater quality;
  • Impermeable areas such as buildings, roads, houses and parking lots prevent precipitation from infiltrating into the subsurface, increasing runoff and potential flooding;
  • Water and sewer service plans, subdivision plans, and wellhead or
    source water protection plans are all forms of land use planning that can mitigate groundwater impacts.
  • As communities develop a schedule to implement the comprehensive plan, communities need to make sure that protection of the groundwater resource is considered.
  • Developing a wellhead protection plan is one way to accomplish this important step. It is important to have information on groundwater resources to make sound planning decisions.

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Goals describe what you want to accomplish. They are realistic and relate to key issues. Here are some example groundwater goals to use as starting points to develop goals that fit your community.

  • Protect groundwater quality in private and municipal wells.
  • Decrease pesticide use in all areas (agricultural, residential, commercial, and industrial).
  • Keep nitrate concentrations below the drinking water standard.
  • Avoid human-caused lowering of the water table.


Objectives are more specific statements that relate to a goal. They set measurable performance targets in a given time frame. Examples include:

  • The Village of Trent develops a wellhead protection ordinance covering their three municipal wells by June 2009.
  • Fifty private well owners have their water tested through the UW-Extension office by January 2010.
  • Twenty farmers attend integrated pest management courses by June 2011.
  • Residential water customers reduce county water use 10% below 1998 water use by 2012.

Groundwater goal # 1 - Protect water quality in public and private wells
Funding Source

1. Adopt wellhead protection ordinance

Village of Trenton

Village budget

June 2009

2. Encourage organic certification of 100 acres of farmland with tax incentives

County land conservation office

County budget


3. Purchase 20 acres of land or conservation easements in wellhead protection area

Southwest Land Trust

State stewardship program


4. Develop groundwater festival to be attended by 100 people

Trout Unlimited and UW-Extension

Trout Unlimited

Summer 2009


Policies describe actions and approaches used to accomplish goals and objectives.

A common groundwater policy is to adopt wellhead protection plans and ordinances for all municipal wells. Click here to find out which municipal wells in your county have wellhead protection plans and ordinances.

In Wisconsin, some groundwater policies are assigned to certain levels of government. For instance, the DNR regulates high capacity wells while county governments administer manure management ordinances. Therefore, it is important to know what groundwater policies local governments are authorized to adopt. The following reports provide this information:

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Below is a fairly expansive list of potential groundwater policies sorted into 11 categories. Use and modify these policies to help develop community objectives to achieve your groundwater goals.

Groundwater Protection Policies
Wisconsin's top 5 groundwater planning and policy recommendations

1. Adopt wellhead protection plans and ordinances for municipal wells.

2. Identify and properly seal unused wells.

3. Educate private well users.

4. Encourage farmers to reduce inputs of potential groundwater contaminants.

5. Examine groundwater quantity issues and encourage water conservation practices.

More groundwater planning and policy recommendations

Wastewater management, solid waste management, stormwater management, land conservation, development restrictions or land use regulations, remediation and redevelopment, road salt use, mining, intergovernmental cooperation.

Examples of actions taken at the local level that protect groundwater

Sometimes actions intentionally protect groundwater, and sometimes they do so inadvertently.

The first five examples below describe actions taken by local governments to intentionally protect groundwater. The last three examples describe economic decisions that had serendipitous outcomes for groundwater.

1. Payments to farmers to grow low nitrogen input crops near municipal well.

2. Groundwater education about water quality of private wells and associated policy development.

3. Municipal well remediation and wellhead protection ordinance.

4. Municipal well remediation and water conservation.

5. Groundwater study included in comprehensive plan and groundwater ordinance addressing future development adopted.

6. Property tax rebates to farmers who switch to organic methods.

7. Organic farms and food processors in Wisconsin.

8. Community Supported Agriculture in Wisconsin.

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4. Prioritize policies 5. Decide how to monitor progress 1. Review pre-planning activities 2. Inventory groundwater data and analyze trends

For more information about this site, its contributors, and the data contained herein, click here.

For assistance concerning comprehensive planning, please contact Lynn Markham, UW-Stevens Point.
For assistance concerning groundwater, please contact Charles Dunning, USGS.
Page contact: Webmaster, USGS
Page last updated: January 14, 2008