Some Questioning Regulations After Kewaunee County Water Issues

Published: Mar. 8, 2017 at 11:09 PM CST
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KEWAUNEE COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) -- Some Kewaunee County residents are turning on their faucets to the sight and smell of brown, manure-like water.

Water problems have been an issue in the county for years.

Many blame a lack of regulation and enforcement on manure spreading at large farms coupled with an unusual terrain.

Most of the county's 20,000 residents get their water from private wells.

About one-third of the wells tested in Kewaunee County are unsafe for drinking, according to a study by the DNR.

A combination of farms, land, and weather is contributing to the contamination.

Kewaunee County is home to many large farms with more than 700 cows, called concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).

There are 16 CAFOs in Kewaunee County, which is a lot compared to other parts of the state.

The county's land formation is unique.

"We have relatively shallower soils and we have cracked bedrock," said Lee Luft, Kewaunee County Ground Water Task Force. "When there is too much manure being applied to some of those kinds of geologies, the potential for ground water contamination is quite high and that's why we see the kinds of well tests that we see."

The recent weather may have contributed to recent water problems.

"We are in a period where there is a lot of active manure application and we've had rains so it is a time to be cautious," Luft said.

The DNR, Kewaunee County, and the EPA are looking for a solution to the problem.

Legislators told Action 2 News in about one year there will be separate rules for Kewaunee County and penalties for those not following them.

Right now, there are recommendations about manure spreading, storage, and other issues, but both Republicans and Democrats said there is not enough enforcement.

"I don't think that we have adequate staff to really watch over it as well as we should, but our conservation department in Kewaunee County does do a very good job, and as they see fit, they can call in the DNR to enforce things if they're having issues," Joel Kitchens, (R) 1st Assembly District Representative, said.

"We're in a public health crisis right now and nobody is really taking these issues seriously and moving quickly to make sure that our citizens are not continuously having contamination issues," said Lynn Utesch, (D) 1st Assembly District candidate.