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Farms’ thirst for water roils Wisconsin’s central sands

TOWN OF OASIS, Wis. — Cris Van Houten thought he was getting a little bit of paradise when he built his house on Huron Lake in Wisconsin’s central sands region. He could look out from his deck at the blue water and scuba dive in the shallows.

Less than 10 years later, he and his neighbors are watching their beloved lake dry up. The shoreline has receded at least 20 feet, leaving Van Houten with a new beach he never wanted, his dock high and dry, and scuba diving impossible.

Like other lake property owners, Van Houten blames the high-capacity water wells serving agriculture, particularly potato farmers. As the number of wells grows, Wisconsin finds itself in an unexpected fight. Despite being bordered on three sides by Lake Superior, Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River and cross-hatched with innumerable rivers, streams and lakes, the state no longer can take water for granted.