Six environmental groups called on the federal Environmental Protection Agency to step in and clean up unsafe drinking water in Kewaunee County.
“It is unacceptable that more than one-third of the private drinking water wells in Kewaunee County are unsafe — contaminated with bacteria, nitrates and other pollutants,” said Elizabeth Wheeler, senior staff attorney with Clean Wisconsin.
Clean Wisconsin, Midwest Environmental Advocates, Midwest Environmental Defense Center, Kewaunee Cares, Clean Water Action Council of Northeast Wisconsin and Environmental Integrity Project wrote to the EPA in early March and requested federal support for clean, safe drinking water.
“After 18 months of little action, it’s time for EPA to step in,” Wheeler said.
Kewaunee water quality
In October 2014, the groups petitioned the EPA, asking for intervention under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
The environmental groups said rollbacks of existing protections raise questions about Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ ability to ensure that drinking water sources are protected from contamination, especially from manure spreading at large-scale farms known as concentrated animal feeding operations. Kewaunee County has 16 such operations.
Wheeler, in a statement, said, “Proposals to protect groundwater around the state, in Kewaunee County and beyond, continue to be blocked by the Legislature and by the DNR’s interpretation of its own authority to manage our waters.”
She continued, “Kewaunee is the latest victim of a fundamental, systemic problem in our state, and surely won’t be the last. Sadly, since our petition was filed, Wisconsin has fewer protections in place instead of more.”
Demands of EPA
The EPA, in a letter sent to the agency’s Chicago office, was asked to:
- Immediately provide Kewaunee County residents with clean water.
- Expedite test results of well water contamination.
- Issue emergency rule changes to ensure the DNR has authority to protect water.
- Provide more research and groundwater monitoring on sources of pollution.
The groups also asked the EPA to monitor closely the DNR’s efforts to develop a plan to implement recommendations.
“Kewaunee County residents have been waiting for years for our state and federal governments’ help in solving this critical issue,” said Wheeler.
“We are insisting on immediate relief for Kewaunee County residents who can’t drink their water,” said Sarah Geers, an attorney for Midwest Environmental Advocates.
UPDATED: With a proposed factory farm threatening to foul Wisconsin’s “Crown Jewel,” the citizens of Bayfield County are not turning away from the stink or running from the fight.
State law prohibits the local jurisdiction from saying “no” to the proposed “concentrated animal feeding operation” in the town of Eileen, but the county on Jan. 26 adopted ordinances intended to tighten regulations and protect the health and safety of the area’s residents and the environment.
Bayfield County supervisors voted unanimously for an ordinance to create an operations permit for large-scale CAFOs and also for an ordinance to create an animal manure permit. The approach, creating local regulations on operations, is like the strategy local jurisdictions employed to control frac sand mines.
The grassroots Farms Not Factories encouraged people to attend the meeting to show their support for stricter control and their opposition to the siting of the factory farm. The votes brought a standing ovation from opponents of the project, who are concerned with air emissions, odor impacts, water pollution, the release of pathogens and inadequate regulatory oversight.
About a year ago, Reicks View Farms filed an application with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources seeking a permit to discharge annually about 6.8 million gallons of liquid manure — to be produced by 26,000 hogs at a planned breeding and feeding operation in Bayfield County. The manure would be stored in pits under covered barns and then injected into soil on about 1,300 acres in the Lake Superior watershed. Reicks wants to move the operation from Iowa because of the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus that’s so devastating to suckling pigs. Animals would be raised at the Wisconsin Badgerwood CAFO and then shipped to Iowa.
An application filed with the state indicated the operation would create 27 new jobs, but didn’t say whether the positions would be permanent or what salaries they might pay.
Farms Not Factories says a document provided to county officials and prepared by Reicks stated the business selected Eileen because of “its natural seclusion” — referring to the area’s isolation from hog farms in Iowa, Illinois and other parts of Wisconsin.
Wisconsinites who care about the state’s outdoors know about a different type of “natural seclusion” in the region, which is home to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, Iron River National Fish Hatchery, North Country National Scenic Trail, St. Croix National Scenic Riverway and Whittlesey Creek National Wildlife Refuge.
Wisconsinites familiar with the state’s geography also know that Eileen is in the Fish Creek Watershed and less than 8 miles from the Chequamegon Bay and Lake Superior. One of Farms Not Factories’ slogans is “10 percent of the world’s fresh water is more valuable to this planet than cheap bacon and pork tenderloin.”
Wisconsin already is home to about 270 large-scale CAFOs. The number has skyrocketed from about 50 in 2006, when Gov. Jim Doyle signed legislation setting basic state standards for CAFOs and removing local control over siting the farms. “That legislation was put in place to provide regulatory certainty for Big Ag,” said Mary Dougherty of Farms Not Factories.
The Badgerwood CAFO would be the first such operation in Lake Superior basin and the largest hog farm in the state. Farms Not Factories said the hogs at Badgerwood would produce as much waste as a city of 50,000 people.
A moratorium on the development of large-scale farms was enacted in both Bayfield after plans for Badgerwood emerged.
Since then, the project and possible responses have been under review.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has said it is looking at the project, in part because of concerns about pollution raised by the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe, whose reservation is east of Ashland on the Lake Superior shore, and the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe, whose reservation is north of Bayfield.
The DNR agreed to do an environmental-impact statement and has collected a lot of public input — hundreds of suggestions and statements from citizens, scientists and advocacy groups. A draft of the EIS is yet to be released. Public comment would follow, then any revisions before the publication of a final EIS, which may or may not influence the state’s decision on the application for Badgerwood.
Meanwhile, the reviews seem complete in Bayfield and Ashland counties.
A committee established by the Bayfield County Board of Supervisors studied the issue, guided by the dual goals of “having a thriving agricultural community and maintaining the public’s health and safety and a healthy environment,” according to its final report.
The committee studied issues relating to ground water, surface water, microbiology and air quality and recommended the adoption of the Large-Scale Confined Animal Feeding Operations Ordinance to require new or expanding livestock operations of 1,000 animals or more to obtain a county operations permit and meet any conditions attached to the permit.
The committee made some other recommendations, including the adoption of the Bayfield County Animal Waste Storage and Management Ordinance requiring new or expanding CAFOs to obtain a permit for storing and managing manure.
“We can’t legally say ‘no,’” said Dougherty, “So, as a result, we came up with this — because we have to do something.”
A poll recently released by Northland College’s Center for Rural Communities shows 63.3 percent of residents oppose the farm and there’s strong support for the county ordinances.
Nearly three-quarters — 72.5 percent — of households support the tighter local regulations at the county level.
Residents’ top five concerns for factory farms are water quality, smell, divisions in the community, air quality and health risks.
These concerns are shared elsewhere in Wisconsin, which is why activists are developing a statewide coalition.
“We have to have this as a mass movement and say this type of agriculture is not Wisconsin,” said Dougherty.