by Isiah Holmes
A new report by the Environmental Working Group and Midwest Environmental Advocates (MEA) has found nine counties overapplying animal manure to farmland, exacerbating water quality problems in rural Wisconsin. According to the report, four counties have applied manure more than 50% above the rate recommended by University of Wisconsin researchers to minimize pollution.
Regions included in the study included Kewaunee County and parts of the Central Sands. The study used aerial photographs and publicly available data and integrated its results into an interactive map. “The report confirms exactly what community groups have been saying for years,” said Jodi Parins, a neighbor of Kinnard Farms in the village of Casco. “Kinnard’s current water pollution permit and nutrient management plan are not protecting our drinking water.” Parins emphasized that “the DNR can no longer ignore the science showing that concentrated animal feed plants are not working for our water or our communities – not by diluting manure, not by Capturing methane, not by flushing gray water into our streams. ”
Adams, Dane, Green, Juneau, Kewaunee, Lafayette, Portage, Rock and Wood counties were also included in the study. In Kewaunee County, manure phosphorus exceeded total crop phosphorus removal by 23%. In other words, approximately 1,222 tons of commercial phosphorus estimated to be sold in the county is unnecessary. In Dane County, 28 farms had to travel more than 3 miles to dispose of manure without exceeding the phosphorus removal capacity of nearby crops. Nitrate is Wisconsin’s most common groundwater contaminant, with more than 90% of it coming from agricultural sources. An analysis conducted by the Environmental Working Group and Clean Wisconsin found that the direct medical costs of nitrate contamination in drinking water in Wisconsin ranged from $23 million to $80 million per year.
Adam Voskuil, a MEW employee and co-author of the report, stressed the DNR’s responsibility to consider existing rates of waste production when setting animal unit limits. “More cows would lead to more pollution,” Voskuil said, “there’s just nowhere that extra manure could be safely spread.”
The landscape of Wisconsin’s agricultural sector has changed over time. While Wisconsin has lost 44% of its dairy farms over the past decade, the report also notes that milk production is now at record levels. This increase is due in part to an increase in the number of CAFOs, or industrial facilities with more than 1,000 “animal units” as defined by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). About 3% of Wisconsin’s farms produce about 40% of the state’s milk.
Meanwhile, the water quality in these counties has deteriorated. The report pointed out that over 1,500 miles of streams, rivers and 33 lakes in the nine counties have been classified as “impaired,” mostly due to agricultural pollution. Also, there isn’t enough land to dispose of all the garbage. “The results indicate a widespread overdose of nutrients compared to UW recommendations for what is required for plants to thrive,” the report said. “Several areas do not have enough farmland to safely and economically dispose of manure used in animal feed.” It adds that “an estimated two-thirds of the counties’ manure nutrients are produced by unauthorized operations that the Wisconsin DNR little to no information on location, size, how much manure it produces or where it is spread.”
Andrea Gelatt, lead attorney for the MEA, said that “a comprehensive assessment of the capacity of Wisconsin’s rural landscape to manage its manure and fertilizer loads is long overdue.” Gelatt added, “This evaluation must make decisions about whether to allow CAFO expansion or set appropriate limits on expansion so that families in rural Wisconsin can have the clean water they deserve.”
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