Tag Archives: kewaunee

EPA finalizing plans to supply water in Kewaunee

The federal Environmental Protection Agency says it’s finalizing a plan to supply water to some residents of Kewaunee County of northeastern Wisconsin, where manure from large dairy farms is being blamed for contaminated wells.

Robert Kaplan, acting regional administrator for the EPA, told residents at a meeting organized by U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin this past week that his agency will announce a plan within the next month to supply residents who have tainted wells. This is according to a report in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel carried by the AP.

Farming practices have been a source of friction in many areas of Wisconsin.

The issue has been especially visible in Kewaunee County, which has longstanding groundwater problems, a large cattle population, and fractured bedrock that allows manure, waste from septic systems and other pollutants to trickle more quickly into aquifers.

In March, six environmental groups called on the EPA 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,” Elizabeth Wheeler, senior staff attorney with Clean Wisconsin, said at the time.

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 and requested federal support for clean, safe drinking water.

Also, in October 2014, the groups petitioned the EPA, asking for intervention under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

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.

 

 

Dane County court rules against DNR in CAFO case

The latest development in Kewaunee County residents’ drive to protect drinking water from agricultural pollutants confirms the duty of Wisconsin DNR to require monitoring for groundwater pollution.

In October 2015, Clean Wisconsin and Midwest Environmental Advocates filed suit after DNR decided to ignore an administrative law judge order to require monitoring and an animal unit cap in a Kewaunee County Confined Animal Feeding Operation permit.

Late last week, Dane County Circuit Court ruled that DNR’s actions were illegal and that the agency overstepped its authority by ignoring the ALJ order.

In the case of Kinnard Farms, Administrative Law Judge Jeffrey Boldt ordered groundwater quality monitoring, a limit on the number of animals at the facility and other conditions on the facility’s wastewater permit to address widespread concern about groundwater contamination in late 2014.

Ten months later, DNR ignored that decision and stripped these sensible and necessary groundwater protection conditions from the permit, according to a news release from Clean Wisconsin.

Dane County Judge Markson wrote: “The laws that provide structure and predictability to our administrative process do not allow an agency to change its mind on a whim or for political purposes. The people of Wisconsin reasonably expect consistency, uniformity, and predictability from their administrative agencies and from the Department of Justice .…DNR had no authority to reverse (its own final) decision. Its attempt to do so is without any basis in law, and it is void.”

Responding, Elizabeth Wheeler, a staff attorney with Clean Wisconsin, said, “This ruling reinforces that DNR has an absolute duty to protect groundwater. The conditions in this permit are reasonable and common-sense protections in an area that is riddled with widespread drinking water contamination.”

She continued, “It is a fundamental duty of DNR to ensure that Wisconsin residents have a safe, reliable, and clean source of drinking water. The people of Kewaunee County don’t have that right now, and if DNR can’t require monitoring or other limits in permits, it will be impossible to locate the source of the contaminants, much less clean up the mess.”

Act 21 at issue

One of the issues in the case was to what degree 2011 Act 21 limits DNR’s authority.

Clean Wisconsin said industrial representatives have been trying to use Act 21 as a way to prevent DNR from requiring sensible permit conditions to limit pollution.

This law also is the basis for a recent opinion for Attorney General Brad Schimel that essentially stripped DNR of its authority to regulate pumping from high capacity wells, which is drying up rivers, lakes, streams and wetlands in some parts of Wisconsin.

“We are pleased that courts are rejecting the claim that DNR’s hands are tied by 2011 Act 21, and we hope this is the beginning of many court decisions that restore one of the most critical functions we rely on our DNR for: protection of our water,” Wheeler said.

The decision follows the release of 65 DNR-facilitated workgroup recommendations for addressing groundwater contamination in Kewaunee County, including increased CAFO audits by DNR and revised regulations for landspreading manure in sensitive areas.

EPA asked to step in over unsafe water in Kewaunee

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.