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WUWM's Susan Bence reports on Wisconsin environmental issues.

Natural Resources Board Considers Remedy for Kewaunee County's Contaminated Wells

Kewaunee County barnyard runnoff

The spreading of manure has become a heated issue in Wisconsin. Especially with the emergence of CAFOs - farms with large concentrations of animals. Some residents blame CAFOs for contaminating drinking water.

Today, dozens of people will trek to Ashland, in the far north, where the Natural Resources Board is supposed to decide how the state will proceed.

Kewaunee County resident Jodi Parins is frustrated about the situation. She says she didn’t know Wisconsin would turn discussions she took part in, intolaw.

“To represent it as the outcome of all of this brain trust and this is absolutely what’s going to need to happen, that would be a mischaracterization of what that work group’s intent was,” Parins says.

Parins says 16 large dairy operations - CAFOs – occupy a good chunk of the Kewaunee County landscape.

In fact, she describes her Lincoln Township – as a place populated by 900 people and 17,000 cows.

Credit Jodi Parins
Silver Creek in Town of Lincoln after summer 2015 rain.

Parins was one of the residents who joined the DNR and EPA in discussing strategiesto prevent the manure from seeping into local well water.

Now she says the DNR may adopt the ideas jotted down – even though they were never meant to be a long-term fix.

“Tell that to my neighbor who just yesterday got his eColi test and he cannot believe it. He’s response was I thought that I was going to be safe. Now he’s got to dig a new well and the new wells might not even last. We have situations where people are on their third well now in less than ten years. So this is people’s lives. That’s what people have to understand,” Parins says.

Residents of Kewaunee County who found their wells contaminated – and suspected the culprit was the manure CAFOs spread on farm fields, turned to the legal team, Midwest Environmental Advocates.

Attorney Sarah Geers says Kewaunee and a few other regions of Wisconsin have a unique geology - shallow soils and porous bedrock.

It’s called “karst.” And it allows substances on the surface to seep into the groundwater.

Geers says everyone involved needs more time to fully explore the science and potential remedies.

Kewaunee county home fall 2015.

 “We are going to pursue every avenue to protect groundwater quality and get Kewaunee Co residents drinking water. So, we’ll will continue to communicate with EPA, and we need the DNR to take the opportunity to make the rules as strong as possible,” Geers says.

Wednesday, the DNR will ask the Natural Resources Board to approve the proposals for addressing manure concerns in Kewaunee County and others with a similar geology.

While Geers fears the measures fall short, they suit John Holevoet just fine. He works for the Wisconsin Dairy Business Association.

Holevoet reviewed the DNR’s first draft – it contained runoff rules for farmers, statewide.

Now that the agency will consider rules just for those living in karst regions - the kind of geology in Kewaunee County, he is satisfied.

“I think it’s been thoughtfully scaled back to actually directly touch on areas with identified problems, verusus than than broader statewide approach. The original scope actually had a lot of language that had little or nothing to do with the workgroups and studies that has been done in northeast Wisconsin. This will actually do a better job of focusing in on the issues raised by that report,” Holevoet says.

Holevoet says dairy farmers are willing to do their part, but the original plan asked too much of state farmers and would cost them millions of dollars.

There were reports this week, that Governor Walker rejected the DNR’s initial draft because of dairy association opposition.

A spokesperson for the DNR says those reports are untrue, and adds, the current version would more quickly address the concerns of residents in Kewaunee County.

Credit Jodi Parins
Manure spill cleanup in the Town of Casco, Kewaunee County, late summer 2015.

Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.
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