Sinkhole treatment a groundwater protection practice

Tivoli Gough
The sinkhole posed safety concerns to the dairy operation's cattle, due to its location amid active pastureland.

CASHTON - Amid the scenic backdrop of contour strip-cropped hills outside of Cashton, WI, the Peterson family operates Mapltwin Farms.

This 500-cow family-operated dairy has origins dating back to the mid 1900’s and is located in the Driftless Region of Southwest Wisconsin. While the area is well-known for its scenic coulees, trout streams, and historical contour strips, it is less known for its karst geology.

As the area’s bedrock dissolves away over time, naturally-occurring bedrock fractures can give way to the formation of small underground tunnels and caves. In some cases, when the overlying soil begins to subside into these channels, a sinkhole forms, creating a direct conduit to groundwater from the surface.

Program Successes

Mapltwin Farms has a strong history of involvement with the local conservation office, including participation in conservation programs including the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP).

When a sinkhole located near the farm’s property line began to grow in size and threaten relations with the neighbors, Chris Peterson came into the local USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office to apply for a Sinkhole Treatment project though EQIP.

One of several underground flow paths that served as
direct conduits to groundwater supplies, un􀆟l the sinkhole
was sealed through the EQIP program.

The environmental benefits of a sinkhole closure include the elimination of a direct conduit for potentially contaminated surface water to enter groundwater supplies.

Peterson explains another benefit, “The project was a win/win for Mapltwin Farms, as well as the neighbors. Closure of the sinkhole improved
the safety of farming operations for our pastured cattle as well as for the neighbor’s [farming] equipment.”

Through EQIP, the sinkhole was successfully sealed, and surface water was diverted around the closure site through the installation of a grassed waterway. The dairy’s cattle are no longer in harm’s way, and groundwater quality and soil resources are protected.

NRCS District Conservationist (Ret.) Greg Wheeler says “Results like these illustrate how environmental concerns can be alleviated through projects which also serve a very real benefit to the farming operation. This effort was a success for the producer and the environment.”

This story is part of the NRCS Successes in the Field series where farmers and landowners partner with NRCS to receive technical and financial assistance in putting conservation to work on their farm.