Via Milwaukee Journal Sentinal:

The state Department of Natural Resources on Wednesday announced plans for a major study on groundwater in central Wisconsin, where critics say growing demand from agriculture and other sources has harmed some streams and lakes.

The project is expected to take more than a year and could prompt changes in the way groundwater and streams and lakes are managed in the 1.75-million acre Central Sands region.

Water issues have loomed over the region for years, but concerns heightened in 2012 when drought conditions spurred massive increases in groundwater pumping.

Agriculture surpassed municipalities as the biggest user of groundwater sources in the state that year, according to a report by the DNR in October.

The region represents half of all irrigation wells in Wisconsin.

Portage County, the largest groundwater user in the state, saw a 65% increase in water use in 2012, according to the DNR.

Second-ranked Adams County experienced a 79% increase, and third-ranked Waushara County had a 68% increase.

There are more than 3,000 high-capacity wells in the region. In 2012, those wells pumped more than 98 billion gallons, the DNR said.

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