Kewaunee Co. dairy fined $50,000 for polluting well, streams

Colleen Kottke
Nine Birnamwood and Wittenberg residents are challenging a permit issued by Shawano County that would allow a livestock operation to expand.


MADISON - The Wisconsin Department of Justice has issued a hefty fine to a Kewaunee County dairy farm for polluting drinking water, wetlands and streams.

Last month, Stahl Brothers Dairy of Luxemburg was ordered to pay a $50,000 forfeiture for two incidences of over-applying and runoff of liquid manure in 2014 and 2015, according to court documents released by the Wisconsin Department of Justice to the group.Socially Responsible Agricultural Project (SRAP) following an open records request.

The action was also counted among the environmental enforcement results of the Wisconsin Department of Justice Environmental Protection Unit (EPU) for the first half of 2017.

The state judgments totaled $486,476 in forfeitures and related surcharges, plus an additional $50,000 in supplemental environmental projects, according to a July 25 news release.

Of the 22 state enforcement actions, nine cases addressed unpermitted discharges or other threats to surface water. The Stahl Brothers case involved two alleged violations of state water pollution control laws in 2014 and 2015.

According to court records released by the Wisconsin Department of Justice and distributed by the Socially Responsible Agricultural Project (SRAP) following an open records request, Stahl Brothers over-applied manure to frozen crop fields resulting in runoff that polluted a private drinking water well at a county residence. The manure also contaminated a county wetland.

In November 2015, Stahl Brothers Dairy again over-applied liquefied manure that spilled into two area streams.

The farm issued a statement to a Green Bay television station saying the two incidents were a result of a third-party manure applicator hired by the farm failing to comply with "certain manure application regulations". The dairy also noted that "mechanical failures and adverse weather conditions resulted in applications outside of the authorized application areas".

As a result of the infractions, Stahl Brothers Dairy worked with the WDOJ's Environmental Protection Unit to address prior compliance concerns while taking additional steps to better protect the environment going forward.

Stahl Brothers Dairy of Luxemburg has been fined for over-appliying manure to frozen crop fields resulting in runoff that polluted a private drinking water well at a county residence. The manure also contaminated a county wetland.

The agreement requires the dairy to pay penalties, costs, and fees totaling $50,000, and implement a $50,000 supplemental environmental project over the next five years. In agreeing to resolve allegations related to the land application of manure in cold weather conditions, the dairy agreed to better train its contract manure hauler and applicator using a qualified nutrient management planner, and agreed to install and maintain approximately 10 acres of filter strips in strategic field locations.

The dairy also committed to planting seasonal crop cover on at least 100 acres of highly erodible soils annually for the next five years. Beyond adding additional environmental protections at the farm, the WDOJ says these measures will help ensure greater compliance in the future.

The farm has resolved these issues with the state and is committed to continued environmental stewardship."

Scott Dye, regional representative for SRAP says the latest action is "just the tip of the iceberg for industrial dairy violations that deserve penalties and sanction from the State of Wisconsin.”

“State records tell the tale and it’s a harsh fact of life for Kewaunee County residents," Dye said in the news release. "The Stahl Brothers Dairy has long been a repeat offender with an abysmal history of violations dating back nearly 30 years.”

The WDOJ judgment outlines specific violations of the Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (WPDES) program by the Stahl Brothers’ operation. The dairy “failed to comply with approved application rates when applying manure and process wastewater to land application sites”; failed to prevent manure and process wastewater from running off application sites”; and “failed to prevent manure and process wastewater from discharging into waters of the state in excess of applicable discharge limitations.”

Lynn Utesch, a local farmer and co-founder of Kewaunee Cares said county residents are constantly exposed to health hazards due to excess liquid manure applications.

“Failure to protect the citizens of Kewaunee County is business as usual for these industrial dairy operations,” she said. "(Excessive manure applications) and the resulting contamination to private wells and our community surface waters poses a threat that the state must continue to confront.”

According to court records, this isn't the first time the Luxemburg-based dairy has been assessed a large fine. In Sept. 2011, the dairy was ordered to pay more than $55,000 in state fines and penalties for a large spill from a liquefied manure pit in 2009.

SRAP officials say that incident resulted in a large-scale fish-kill and polluted 12.9 miles of the Kewaunee River.

The group says Stahl Brothers Dairy isn’t the only Kewaunee County concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) that has had recent violations. According to its audit of Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources records, since April 2014, one-half of the County’s 15 industrial dairies and one large beef feedlot have been cited for violations 15 times by the agency.  However, only Stahl Brothers has been referred to WDOJ for enforcement and paid fines and penalties.