Saratoga water ordinance gets state OK

Jonathan Anderson, USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources last month determined that an ordinance the Town Board of Saratoga had enacted to protect groundwater could take effect.

SARATOGA - For five years, the town of Saratoga has been working to stop a proposed large-scale dairy farm that officials and residents fear could harm the water supply.

Now they have another weapon in that fight.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources last month determined that an ordinance the Town Board had enacted to protect groundwater could take effect, according to a letter DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp sent to the town.

The ordinance spells out actions the town can take when water quality standards are violated, and gives the town authority to enforce state rules governing large farms, town attorney Paul Kent said.

Local livestock regulations that exceed state requirements must be approved by the DNR before they can be enacted. But the agency determined that Saratoga’s ordinance did not go beyond what the state already required, so the ordinance did not need formal agency approval, DNR spokesman Andrew Savagian said.

The decision comes as the town and many of its residents continue efforts to block the planned Golden Sands Dairy, a 5,300-cow farm that would operate and grow crops on nearly 8,000 acres, most of which are in Saratoga.

Golden Sands would produce 55 million gallons of liquid manure and 25,000 tons of solid manure each year, according to the DNR. That manure would be applied on fields with sandy and permeable soils — which the town has said are susceptible to contamination — and near homes that predominantly have private water wells.

Under the ordinance, farmers who spread manure must comply with their nutrient management plan, wastewater discharge permits and limits on groundwater contaminants such as nitrates. The ordinance also gives the town the power to investigate complaints, inspect properties and enforce federal and state water quality standards.

If farmers become aware of groundwater contamination, the ordinance requires them to notify the town and identify how the problem will be resolved. Farmers in such instances also would be required to provide the town with groundwater testing results that are provided to other agencies, such as the DNR.

The town could further investigate the contamination or order the farm to install groundwater monitoring wells, apply manure differently or take steps to restore groundwater quality.

Violators could be fined $1,000 to $5,000 and the town could take further legal action and require the violator to pay for enforcement costs.

The ordinance cites scientific data, water sample tests and groundwater modeling to justify the regulations. Such data include a projection that people living closest to Golden Sands would have unsafe levels of nitrates in their drinking wells within three to five years after the farm starts spreading manure and other fertilizers on fields.

Monitoring wells at a 3,800-cow Juneau County farm owned by the same company seeking to build Golden Sands Dairy, the Wysocki Family of Companies, also have shown nitrate levels substantially higher than state drinking water standards.

The DNR is reviewing the environmental impact of the proposed farm, and a lawsuit between the town and the Wysocki Family of Companies over a building permit for the farm is pending in the state court of appeals.