DNR drafts rules limiting manure use in some areas
After years of complaints about manure spreading and its potential to harm drinking water, state officials are advancing first-ever rules to limit animal waste on vulnerable soils of eastern Wisconsin.
The target of the proposed regulations is farmland that lies over fractured bedrock that, under the right circumstances, can serve as a conduit for pathogen-laden manure to soak into aquifers and taint drinking water.
After prodding from environmental groups and some rural residents, the Department of Natural Resources is targeting 15 counties, including those of metropolitan Milwaukee, for certain manure-spreading standards.
Tailoring runoff regulations by region is a first for Wisconsin. Such practices are currently regulated the same across the state.
The DNR has concluded that groundwater standards in eastern Wisconsin cannot be met with a one-size-fits set of regulations and that special actions must be taken in the region.
The final outcome is not clear. Last year, a stronger measure went to Gov. Scott Walker but was reworked after farm groups raised objections. The latest measure is expected to go the GOP-controlled Legislature by January and lawmakers could also raise objections.
On Monday, the Wisconsin Dairy Business Association offered a less than full-throated endorsement.
In a statement, John Holevoet, director of government affairs, said his group is interested in “finding pragmatic solutions to the challenges of manure management. … We hope to remain involved in the process going forward. We want to ensure that any end result brings about environmental protections and is practical for farmers to implement.”
In a statement, attorney Sarah Geers of Midwest Environmental Advocates said, “We hope that DNR’s rule proposal will incrementally move us in the right direction, but more is needed.”
In all, the DNR estimates there are more than 87,000 acres of cropland in eastern Wisconsin region where soil is no deeper than 5 feet before it reaches bedrock that may provide an easy pathway to groundwater.
“What is going on there is not sufficient,” said Mary Anne Lowndes, chief of runoff management with the DNR, speaking of the current state of regulation.
Worries over well contamination have heightened in recent years, especially in northeastern Wisconsin, where high cattle populations and geological conditions have combined to pollute drinking water.
Independent studies in Kewaunee County, where there are about 20,000 residents and 100,000 cattle, have detected manure-contaminated wells during wet-weather events — when manure, rain or melting snow seep quickly into the ground.
The proposed rules spell out certain farming practices — in some cases required, in other cases voluntary — where farmers must steer clear of certain areas to minimize the threats of groundwater pollution.
Manure spreading on farm fields with less than 2 feet of soil would be prohibited. Spreading on frozen or snow-covered ground with less than 5 feet of soil also would be prohibited.
Also, farmers could not spread manure within 250 feet of a drinking water well.
The state’s largest dairy farms, known as concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, would be required to comply with the limits in the rule.
Also, smaller farms may be required to follow certain farm management practices if communities write ordinances requiring farms to make changes consistent with the rule.