Gordondale Farms petitions against DNR order for nitrate monitoring plan

Jennifer Poyer
Stevens Point Journal
Gordondale Farms is located north of Nelsonville, Wis.

NELSONVILLE ‒ A Portage County dairy farm is pushing back after the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources ordered it to submit an off-site monitoring plan to the DNR by Oct. 12.

According to DNR Wastewater Specialist Tyler Dix, Gordondale Farms submitted a petition on Sept. 9 to contest its recent permit modification. The issues being contested are whether the requirements to conduct and report on monthly groundwater monitoring are necessary.

On Sept. 15, the DNR granted the petition. Dix said the next step will be to reach out to Gordondale Farms and determine whether a settlement agreement can be reached. If it cannot, a hearing date will be set. Meanwhile, the requirement for Gordondale Farms to submit an off-site groundwater monitoring plan is on hold.

Gordondale Farms has been embroiled in the long-running controversy surrounding nitrate contamination in the village of Nelsonville.

More:Two Central Wisconsin counties hope their ‘new’ approach to address nitrate-polluted water can serve as model for state

The dairy farm is located near the village of Nelsonville, where over half of the village's private wells tested by the Portage County Department of Health in 2018 showed high levels of nitrate contamination.

Gordondale Farms is a concentrated animal feeding operation, known as a CAFO, and is home to more than 2,000 cattle. One hundred forty-two people reside in the village, about 14 miles outside of Stevens Point, according to the 2020 U.S. Census.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, nitrates — chemicals that typically enter the water supply through pollution from manure or sewage systems — can cause illness when consumed, including birth defects, thyroid problems and cancer, especially cancers of the gastrointestinal system.

In September 2020, residents of Nelsonville, whose health problems related to nitrates were reported by USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin later that year, challenged Gordondale's CAFO permit because they said the requirements did not do enough to protect the village's drinking water.

In July 2021, a ruling by the Wisconsin State Supreme Court affirmed the ability of the DNR to take into account runoff pollution into drinking water in its decisions on CAFO permits. 

As a result, the DNR is revisiting multiple permits issued to large farms in the state, including Gordondale. 

Ten people spoke in favor of the well monitoring change during a May 12 DNR hearing, with one central Wisconsin dairy farmer making a statement against it.

On Aug. 12, the DNR ordered Gordondale Farms to develop an off-site groundwater monitoring plan and submit it to the DNR for review by Oct. 12. This order is the subject of Gordondale's petition.

Kyle Gordon, the head of Gordondale Farms, previously told the Stevens Point Journal he expects monitoring wells to cost his farm at least $150,000 in addition to maintenance and testing. To date, he said, the farm has spent about $60,000 on attorneys, hydrogeologists and improving land management practices to minimize nitrate leaching, where nitrate moves from the soil to groundwater.

Editor Jamie Rokus and reporters Alan Hovorka and Renee Hickman contributed to this report.