New Report Finds Water Pollution Would Likely Worsen with Expansion of AnimalFeeding Operations

Lisa Anderson:

Katy Bailey and I are quoted in the press release by Midwest Environmental Advocates (MEA) and the Environmental Working Group (EWG). By following the links below, you can see the study that the two groups worked on, the press release, and some articles covering the study and related issues. The quote by me is slightly off in that it appears our well is currently contaminated. Our well was contaminated prior to 2011 when we replaced it. The “our” in the quote is a collective “our.”

New Report Finds Water Pollution Would Likely Worsen with Expansion of Animal
Feeding Operations in Northeast Wisconsin and the Central Sands

Analysis Reveals Widespread Overapplication of Manure and Commercial Fertilizer, Lack of Available Farmland for Safely Disposing of Additional Animal Waste

MADISON, WI— A new report by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Midwest Environmental Advocates (MEA) finds that in some areas of the state, including Kewaunee County and portions of the Central Sands, there is not enough agricultural land to safely dispose of the manure generated by animal feeding operations. The report raises concerns about the potential expansion of industrial-scale livestock operations in areas that are already grappling with drinking water pollution.

Using aerial imagery and publicly available data, EWG and MEA modeled current rates of application for commercial fertilizer and animal manure in nine Wisconsin counties. The analysis, which is the first of its kind in Wisconsin, shows that fertilizer and manure are being applied to farmland at rates that far exceed what is needed by crops growing in the surrounding area.

Nitrogen and phosphorus in manure and commercial fertilizer are essential crop nutrients, but excess nutrients caused by overapplication of manure and fertilizer can cause nitrate contamination of groundwater and pollute Wisconsin’s rivers, lakes and streams.

An Overwhelming Amount of Manure in Kewaunee County

The number of concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, in Wisconsin has dramatically increased over the past few decades. As CAFOs multiply and grow larger, they continue to pump out massive amounts of manure for disposal. The trend has been especially devastating in places like Kewaunee County, where fractured bedrock and shallow soils make groundwater vulnerable to pollution. Kinnard Farms, located in Kewaunee County, is one of the state’s largest dairy CAFOs. The farm was at the center of a landmark legal decision in July in which the Wisconsin Supreme Court affirmed the state’s authority to limit the number of animals allowed under the farm’s permit and to require the farm to monitor groundwater quality in areas where large amounts of manure are spread.

As a result of the ruling, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is now required to revisit permits for Kinnard Farms and a number of other large CAFOs. Neighbors of Kinnard Farms point to the report by EWG and MEA as evidence that the DNR must set an animal until limit that does not allow for future expansion.

“The report confirms exactly what the citizen groups have said for years—Kinnard’s current water pollution permit and nutrient management plan aren’t protecting our drinking water,” said Jodi Parins, a neighbor of Kinnard Farms. “The DNR can no longer ignore the science that shows that concentrated animal feeding operations don’t work for our water or our communities—not by watering down manure, not by capturing methane, not by flushing gray water into our streams.”

“In setting an animal unit limit for Kinnard Farms, the DNR must consider the overwhelming amount of fertilizer and manure that is already being applied to fields in the area,” said Adam Voskuil, MEA Staff Attorney and co-author of the report. “More cows would lead to more pollution—there’s just nowhere for additional manure to be safely spread.”

“Why isn’t the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources more concerned about our health and the environments of Kewaunee and Door Counties?” said Mike Bahrke, Executive Director of the Door County Environmental Council. “CAFO manure is polluting the aquifer and contaminating wells in Kewaunee County and likely Door County. The DNR has the authority and the power, and it’s time to protect our water and our residents!”

A Drinking Water Crisis in the Central Sands

Residents of Wisconsin’s Central Sands region are equally concerned about CAFO expansion and contamination of their drinking water. The new report by EWG and MEA modeled manure and fertilizer application in Portage County and found that—as in Kewaunee County—manure and fertilizer are being applied at rates that already exceed the available agricultural fields’ crop nutrient needs. In response to the growing crisis, the DNR began developing new rules in 2019 for the application of manure and commercial fertilizer in the Central Sands and other vulnerable areas of the state. Despite strong public support, the new environmental protections faced opposition from industrial agriculture groups and their allies in the legislature, and in November, the DNR announced that it would abandon its efforts. The news that the DNR would not move forward with new groundwater protections was especially disappointing for residents of Nelsonville, where half of all private wells tested are considered unsafe due
to pollution from agricultural fertilizer and manure. The ongoing water quality crisis has led local residents to call for increased accountability and oversight of large livestock operations like Gordondale Farms, a dairy CAFO with approximately 2,000 cows. The recharge zone for the groundwater that Nelsonville relies on includes fields on which Gordondale Farms spreads manure. Like Kinnard Farms, Gordondale’s permit is now subject to modification following the Supreme Court’s July ruling. The farm’s neighbors have asked the DNR to require groundwater monitoring and to limit future expansion.

“Like other neighbors of Gordondale Farms, we’ve seen a consistent decline in the quality of our well water, said Nelsonville resident Lisa Anderson. “The EWG report confirms that what we’re asking for is both reasonable and necessary.”

Lisa Anderson

Nelsonville resident

Note: This email is being shared with most Nelsonville residents and other interested parties. The county board is not included as a whole, but feel free to share this information as you like.

Wisconsin Public Radio Story:
“Report: Too much manure and fertilizer is being spread in some areas at the expense of water quality”

Report examines 9 counties and finds overapplication of nutrients

By Danielle Kaeding


  • Wednesday, February 16, 2022, 5:10pm