This is a story from Wisconsin, but similar stories are playing out every day all over the US. Stories about big dairy farms, hog farms, poultry farms. Stories about people whose health, homes and communities were adversely impacted by putting too many animals in too small an area.
Kewaunee County, near Green Bay Wisconsin has 14 permitted CAFO’s (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations of 1,000 animal units, about 700 dairy cows) giving it one of the highest livestock densities in the state. Wisconsin has over 220 dairy CAFO’s and according to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) there are currently about 30 more permit applications pending. Clearly, the move to fewer and bigger livestock operations is a growing trend.
With more cows comes more manure and when concentrated in a smaller area the possibility of ground and surface water pollution becomes a very real threat.
With 30% of the private wells tested in Kewaunee county and 50% of the wells in the county’s Lincoln Township contaminated with E. coli and other contaminants it would appear that the threat is now a reality.
In March of 2012, Kinnard farms, Lincoln Township, applied to the DNR for a re-issuance of its WPDES (Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) permit and proposed to construct new facilities more than doubling its herd size to 6,200 cattle. This number of cattle would produce over 70 million gallons of manure per year without, according to Kinnard Farms, any pollution of ground or surface water.
Of course, the permit was granted, despite the fact that Kinnard Farms had a history of permit violations, (three notices of noncompliance, for land spreading violations, as well as the 2010 notice of violation for its manure lagoon overflowing). So what was the basis for assurances that even more cows would result in less pollution?
The DNR, through its permitting process and enforcement procedures of livestock facilities, is supposed to prevent ground and surface water contamination. They didn’t. A group of residents of Lincoln Township, who are now unable to use water from their wells for drinking, cooking or bathing, saw legal action against the DNR as their only recourse.
In October of 2012 neighbors of Kinnard Farms filed a petition requesting the DNR to review the permit, challenging the DNR’s issuance of a permit before the expansion plans were completed, noting that there was no limit placed on the number of cows at the dairy and no provision stipulating a requirement for ground water monitoring wells. The permit as issued, could not assure that manure storage facilities and land spreading would not result in runoff events that would pollute surface and ground water. The plaintiffs knew that even on a good day a permit is only as good as the legal enforcement.
The petitioners were only asking that laws already on the books be enforced. Midwest Environmental Advocates attorney Sarah Williams stated that “The petitioners are not trying to get rid of of CAFOs, they’re not trying to stop this industrial dairy from expanding, what they want is a permit that protects their water and health,”.
An editorial in Hoard’s Dairyman defending the CAFO’s in Kewaunee County cried foul implying that the wells were not deep enough “the great number of private wells in the Kewaunee area that have been there for a number of generations and are simply not deep enough to ensure high-quality water. We all share responsibility to ensure our own water quality as neighbors. That includes having wells that are up to standard”. So apparently, even though the wells had always been up to standard, once the manure started flowing things changed, now the residents were at fault, not the expanding farm, nor the DNR in their failure to enforce their own regulations.
However, in his October 2014 decision, Judge Jefferey Boldt apparently didn’t agree, he ordered Kinnard Farms to begin groundwater monitoring for pollutants at the building site. He ordered monitoring to include no less than six monitoring wells, two of which must monitor off-site land spreading of manure.
It was also ordered that a maximum number of animal units at the facility be noted on the permit.
The DNR was ordered to modify the Kinnard Farms permit to limit discharge of manure or wastewater pollutants to navigable waters.
Government agencies should not have to be forced by citizens to enforce the law.
In a state where “moving forward” means getting bigger, the environment and public health always seemed to be trumped by someone needing to increase their profits. We are told that economic survival depends on growth, no matter what business you are in.
Personally I don’t agree. Wisconsin may be open for business, but then, growing business and taking profit at the cost of the public is clearly not the essence of a “healthy, sustainable environment”.
There is something seriously wrong with society if profit for a few is put ahead of public health.
And when the government refuses to enforce laws protecting the public, then there is something seriously wrong with the government.
Jim Goodman is a dairy farmer from Wonewoc, WI.