DNR board approves manure limitations for eastern Wisconsin

Published: Jan. 24, 2018 at 10:36 AM CST
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Farmers and water environmentalists in Kewaunee County have battled over the spread of manure for decades. But in the last few years, a compromise has been reached in the form of a new set of restrictions, unanimously approved by the Department of Natural Resources Board in Madison Wednesday.

24 people testified, and they were all in favor of additions to the DNR’s NR 151, which affects fifteen counties: Brown, Calumet, Dodge, Door, Fond du Lac, Kenosha, Kewaunee, Manitowoc, Milwaukee, Outagamie, Ozaukee, Racine, Walworth, Washington and Waukesha counties.

The eastern counties have a type of bedrock that allows manure to seep into groundwater, ultimately causing contaminated water wells. Action 2 News has reported on issues in Kewaunee County for several years.

"I test a lot of wells in Kewaunee County. You have the landowners that can't drink their water. So there needed to be something done,” said Davina Bonness, director of the Kewaunee County Land and Water Conservation.

Bonness was very excited about the outcome of the vote on the rule, which ultimately stops farmers from spreading manure on soil less than two feet deep. While that is good for stopping manure from seeping into groundwater, it could be bad for farmers who don't have access to extra land to put their manure. But, the two sides say they had to compromise.

Pagel's Ponderosa Dairy in Kewaunee County is one of the state's biggest dairy operations. Although he's pro-new regulation, the owner John Pagel tells Action 2 News he will have to stagger his manure spreading in a way that will ultimately hurt his bottom line, but he is more concerned about small, family farm operations.

"It will affect me, but we'll figure it out. And if it improves water quality, which I believe it will, then it's the right thing to do. But it concerns me when we affect family businesses that have been in the family for many years."

Pagel sits on the county board. He says smaller operations worry about losing their family farms. “I don’t want to see anyone—no matter how small—lose their farm.”

Bonness says the plan is to work out solutions with farmers.

"We're all working together. We're not working behind the scenes trying to one up the other. We're working together and collaborating and I think that's why Madison saw it that way today.”

The restrictions need to be signed by Governor Walker, then approved by the state legislature before becoming law.