Drinking Manure: Groundwater, Manure and Public Safety, NR 151

Participants at a hearing in Green Bay Wisconsin on Friday, September 15th, which was also live-streamed to Madison, shared the numbers on how many wells in Kewaunee County are contaminated by farm runoff, mainly in the form of manure. Some, including scientists and agricultural experts, put the number at 30 percent, others 40 percent or higher. That means that 30-40 percent of families and anyone depending on the well for fresh water must either drink, wash dishes and themselves and cloths in poop or have water trucked in for all uses. This is only a slight exaggeration. Manure doesn’t actually flow from the faucet, but all of the bacteria and chemical contaminants do.

The hearing was put in by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to allow for public comment on new rules which would update the current rules for manure spreading and storage, NR 151.

For over a century and a half dairy farming has been an important part of Wisconsin’s agricultural landscape. Management of animal waste, manure, was initially left to individual farmers. Then herd size grew from a few dozen cows to giant one to eight thousand cow CAFO farms which accumulate thousands of pounds of manure every day. The understanding of runoff contamination into our water supply and its effect on the health of Wisconsin families improved and policies were put in place by the Environmental Protection Agency and rules established by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to protect our groundwater.

On September 15 members of environmental groups, small and large dairy farms, concerned citizens and representatives of angel investors in new manure management technology came together in both Madison and Green Bay for a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources hearing on NR 151 which would update rules for manure storage and management.

Some giving testimony at the hearing, such as Scott Laeser from Clean Wisconsin, see NR 151 as a good first step in what will be an evolving process of water protection. Others felt that the rules set down in NR 151 have been so far weakened from the original science-based recommendations of collaborative working groups that they won’t be effective. Many of those testifying raised concerns that lack of any process to evaluate whether the rules are being followed and whether they are actually improving water quality will also be a problem. Family farmers raised concerns about how the new rules will financially impact their small operations. More than one county board supervisor expressed concern that carrying out the new rules could overwhelm their county financial resources and whether the people who formulate the rules “have ever really been on a farm.”

One representative of an angel investor group for manure management startup companies believes NR 151 doesn’t go far enough to encourage development and inclusion of these technologies and privately acknowledged discouragement that people have to “deal with manure coming through their faucet” when there are now ways solve this problem.

The DNR will accept public comment on NR 151 by email until October 4, 2017, at DNRAdministrativeRulesComments@Wisconsin.gov for anyone who would like to share their concern for water resources, or mailed to Department of Natural Resources Attn: Mike Gilbertson P.O. Box 7921 101 S. Webster Street, Madison, WI 53707-7921

More information on the rule changes and the timeline to approval can be found at http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/nonpoint/nr151strategy.html.



About Frances Wiedenhoeft

After a lifetime in nursing, anesthesia and the Army I now write, blog, attend school for journalism and massage, and watch my 3 grandchildren. I am a veteran of Desert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan and try to serve other vets such as myself, and to work for peace.
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