Neighbors make a stink about manure spreading violations at Tag Lane Dairy
DNR says farm is now in compliance with pollutant discharge permit
OCONOMOWOC - It's an issue that's pitted neighbor against neighbor in Ixonia, but some who packed the city of Oconomowoc Council Chambers on May 31 for a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) public hearing came from out of town, concerned about water quality of nearby lakes and rivers.
Of the 20 people who spoke, none were in favor of renewing the Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (WPDES) permit for Tag Lane Dairy, LLC. The owner of the farm was among those at the public hearing, but did not speak during public comments.
"That's dramatic," said Ed Cohen. "I think that's worth paying attention to."
According to the public notice for the hearing, the existing Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) at Tag Lane Dairy maintains a herd size of more than 2,200 animal units, but that number was "a little bit smaller" than what is actually on the farm, said Mark Cain, wastewater engineer with the DNR.
Tag Lane's permit renewal allows up to more than 3,500 animal units and requires 180 days of liquid manure storage — Tag Lane has more than 280 — and at least 60 days of solid manure storage, which the farm also has, Cain explained.
According to the permit, Tag Lane would annually generate about 16.6 million gallons of manure and process wastewater and more than 26,000 tons of solid manure, some of which would be spread over the city of Oconomowoc aquifer recharge area.
Bodies of water receiving the discharge surface water and groundwater are Sinissippi Lake, Ashippun River-Rocker River Watersheds and the Upper Rock River drainage basin.
People at the hearing from out of the area talked about paddling the lakes and rivers, worrying about manure leaking into the water systems, canceling canoe trips because of water-quality concerns and fear of putting their hands in the water to cool off during a hot trip along the river.
Neighbors like Mary Frankiewicz watched Tag Lane Dairy grow from a small family farm to "factory farm." Her family built their house on an alfalfa field farmed by Tag Lane Dairy. Back then, the farm had about 50 cows, Frankiewicz said.
Her sons both worked at the farm. They watched the farm grow to 200 cows, then 400, "and we were fine with that."
"And in 2008, we heard that they were going to be building this factory farm, and we weren’t fine with that," Frankiewicz said. "It has completely changed the quality of our lives."
Neighbors of the dairy are checking their wells, fearing contamination. Frankiewicz said of the two ponds her family dug, the swimming pond is "full of E. coli; we had it tested." The second pond, for wildlife, is covered in green algae, "possibly due to phosphorus overload," she said.
One of their dogs, who would drink from the pond, had mouth cancer. A number of people in the area have had cancers and illnesses, and Frankiewicz questions the role played by the runoff from the farm.
Frankiewicz also wonders, if the permit allows 500 gallons of liquid manure per acre, per day, to leak from a CAFO — where is it going?
Cain later clarified that while a manure pit could leak 500 gallons per acre, not many leak, and "it's not manure coming out of there. It's highly filtered water."
"By design the hydrostatic pressure of the manure on the ground could push up to 500 gallons through a liner," Cain explained. But the liners consist of clay soil at least 3 feet thick, which filter the liquid.
"Just yesterday I was driving past the farm, and the runoff from the land behind the manure pits ran across the road and into the land across the street," said Frankiewicz. "I drove my car through it. It must have been 6 inches deep, and I’m thinking to myself, where is that manure going?"
Frankiewicz also questioned why municipalities have to treat every gallon of wastewater when a CAFO is "discharging their excrement in two multimillion gallon pits on 33 acres of land, in the center of a dozen homes."
"I just worry so much that this is going to turn into another Kewaunee County situation with contaminated wells and groundwater," added Frankiewicz. "I do ask that you study this diligently."
Tag Lane violations
Bob Lacourciere of Oconomowoc asked that two fields for spreading manure be removed from the Tag Lane nutrient management plan in the permit because the fields "are located in the area that has high groundwater contamination potential and sits on a critical recharge aquifer." The fields are in an area identified by Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SWRPC) as "having a critical unconfined aquifer," Lacourciere said.
"These aquifers supply water for high-capacity wells for cities and manufacturing throughout Waukesha County," said Lacourciere. "If a contaminant is released ... that water could become contaminated and eventually spread to large areas with shallow, mid-level and deep aquifers. SWRPC says cleaning contaminated water can be costly and in some cases impossible."
Louisa Self, who lives in Nashotah Farms, said the two fields should be removed from the plan "because these fields could be a perfect storm."
Saying that "any contamination could be catastrophic" to the highly populated area, Self punctuated her statement with a list of six noncompliance violations Tag Lane Dairy has had since 2013, which has delayed renewing the farm's WPDES permit.
Self asked DNR officials to "not take a chance" and allow the fields in Tag Lane's plan for spreading manure, "because there is a high probability" of contamination.
"To protect all of these sensitive areas a moratorium should be put in place to stop spreading manure on these fields and an environmental impact study should be done, to identify the impact on the surface water, the ground water and the unconfined critical recharge aquifer areas located near those fields," Self added.
Perhaps the biggest violation by Tag Lane Dairy occurred in the city of Delafield last August.
It was the first complaint of manure being spread Delafield City Administrator Tom Hafner has dealt with in his 15 years with the city.
As Hafner explained, "without any communication or fair warning," a "constant parade of tanker trucks proceeded for four days to haul 4 to 5 million gallons of liquid manure from Ixonia to farm fields in the city of Delafield that surrounded residential subdivisions served by individual private drinking water wells."
"Tag Lane Dairy badly managed the manure application process in Delafield and failed to follow best management practices," Hafner said.
When the DNR issued a notice of noncompliance for the incident, the violations included not maintaining a minimum of 1,000 feet distance from the community well for the Nashotah House Seminary when spreading manure, complaints about the number and frequency of tanker trucks hauling manure, multiple equipment failures that resulted in hose blowouts and manure piling, manure in city drainage ditches along Mission Avenue, manure ponding on the city road and "in general improper management by the manure applicator."
As a result, the city of Delafield passed an ordinance in January 2018 making it illegal to spread large quantities of manure in the city if it was not generated by farming operations conducted in the city, Hafner explained. The neighboring village of Nashotah passed a similar ordinance.
Based on Tag Lane's inability to properly follow the requirements of its previous WPDES permit, Hafner said the city was asking the DNR to "exclude any farm fields located in the city of Delafield" from any permit approved for Tag Lane Dairy.
Despite the violations, Cain said if Tag Lane is back in compliance and meets all the requirements of its WPDES permit, the DNR would have no basis to deny the renewal. The DNR approves fields for spreading manure, but does not supercede city or town ordinances.
While many people complained about the number of cows on the farm, Cain said the DNR doesn't have the ability to put a cap on the number of animal units allowed for the WPDES permit. Complaints during the hearing also included odors, noise and dust, but the DNR can only address issues dealing with water quality when considering renewing the permit.
Cain did not know when the DNR would make its final determination on the Tag Lane permit.
More information on the proposed permit can be found at dnr.wi.gov/topic/wastewater/publicnotices.html. Written comments on the permit will be accepted until 4:30 p.m. June 7. Send comments to James M. "Mike" Carlson, DNR Mackenzie Center; W7303 Highway CS/Q/ Poynette, WI 53955, or James.Carlson@wisconsin.gov.
The owner of Tag Lane Dairy did not respond when the Wisconsin State Farmer contacted him after the public hearing.