Op Ed

Stop Pollution From Manure Spreading

Will DNR protect drinking water or higher profits for mega-farms?

By - Jan 19th, 2018 11:55 am
Manure is spread during a demonstration during Farm Technology Days on July 22, 2009. Photo by Carolyn Betz of the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute.

Manure is spread during a demonstration during Farm Technology Days on July 22, 2009. Photo by Carolyn Betz of the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute.

Wisconsin residents, concerned about their own health and the health of their local economy, demand that politicians do something to stem the rising risk of pollution. Politicians make a head-fake toward action, only to side with corporate special interests that would rather avoid responsibility than find a solution.

The script is playing out yet again as state policymakers consider a modest response to the drinking water crisis that sees parts of northeastern Wisconsin drowning in manure from large dairies.

The DNR has proposed reasonable limits about where, when and how farmers can spread manure in sensitive areas in and around Kewaunee County, near Green Bay.

The rule, offered after years of deliberation and dialogue among a range community and industry stakeholders, is designed to protect drinking water tainted by bacteria and other pathogens that travel from manure on fields to wells that thousands of people rely on daily.

Science suggests the rules aren’t enough—southern and western Wisconsin bedrock has the same “karst” characteristics that make pollution more likely from manure spreading. The tight focus on northeastern Wisconsin was, in fact, a compromise approach that gives us a path toward a more comprehensive statewide solution.

But even a small step toward sensible protections for Wisconsin communities has drawn resistance from corporate lobbyists who seek to gut proposed rules—cutting the number of wells that would be protected in half.

Whether corporate special interests will convince politicians that clean tap water for all is less important than profits for a few large polluters remains an open question. Natural Resources Board members will consider the proposed rule Jan. 24. Approval clears the path for it to go to the Legislature, where leaders would have the option of taking no action and allow the rule — called NR 151 — to take effect.

Legislators could also bow to industry lobbyists and try to further limit local protections from the illnesses and lower property values that go hand and hand with unchecked pollution from manure spreading.

So what is a state to do when it relies on clean water for healthy people and its economy driven by agriculture and tourism? Three things:

  1. Embrace the modest approach embodied by the proposed NR 151 rule. We cannot afford to wait for a less robust approach to fail.
  2. Study the problem of manure spreading across Wisconsin. Northeast Wisconsin is not the only vulnerable area and state funds should be allocated to understand the true scope of the issue.
  3. Enforce rigorous standards with additional county conservation staff across the state.

You and I can do much to ensure sound protections are enacted. It begins with voicing concerns during comment periods for the proposed rule. And, contact your legislators to voice your support for strong drinking water protections across the state.

But we can also use our power as consumers to encourage more responsible farming. Celebrate the many farms who work to protect our waters while they provide the goods we find in grocery stores.

For now, we must all recognize and respond to the threat posed by concentrated manure in sensitive parts of the state. People lives are very much at risk. So is the economic vitality of affected communities.

The DNR’s NR 151 revision is a solid first step. We strongly encourage policymakers to take it with the support of River Alliance of Wisconsin and our thousands of members.

Raj Shukla is Executive Director of River Alliance of Wisconsin, a statewide organization that empowers people to protect and restore water.

Categories: Environment, Op-Ed, Politics

9 thoughts on “Op Ed: Stop Pollution From Manure Spreading”

  1. Terry says:

    Career Politocian Walker gutted the DNR. Now we get to drink manure water. Thanks Walker. Thanks Republicans.

  2. Colin Stuart says:

    The DNR could work (like it used to) if the GOP didn’t castrate it / fill it up with crooks.

  3. Aggie says:

    Small family farms have been responsibly raising cattle and spreading the manure on fields for decades without issue, but when massive factory farms concentrate thousands of animals on small concrete feedlots, store the waste for extended periods of time, and try to dispose of all of that waste in a very local area, it creates huge problems.

    Like many problems, It’s not so much the action itself, but the concentration of this action in a localized area.

  4. Rita says:

    Agreed Aggie, U.S. exports of pork, beef, and poultry – especially pork and poultry have skyrocketed. The irresponsible GOP leadership ignoring the repercussions of manure pollution have led to this disaster of foul waters – waters both above and below the surface. Walker and his ilk are all to happy to turn our state into the barnyard of the world in return for profits for the few and thus power for themselves. Shame on him. Shame on them.

  5. MKE Kid says:

    I have family in the Green Bay and Kewaunee areas. I never realized how toxic and disgusting the CAFOs were until I was downwind from them. The fumes are as bad as those of the paper mills that used to be in those areas. I can’t even imagine how it’s been like for residents whose wells have dried up or become contaminated from CAFOs. These have proliferated on Walker’s watch. Anything for corporate donations. To hell with the people that live there.

    Another thing I’ve realized is that the cows are not grazing out in fields like they used to. I remember the Wisconsin countryside used to be dotted with black and white in fields of green. Now the cows spend their lives indoors eating commercial feed. The cows are nothing more than milk producing machines. Read up on Big Dairy. It’s a nasty and harmful business.

  6. will says:

    These big mega farms are ruining rural life. I live in the fond du lack area and the mega farm by us is running liquid manure tankers as far as 30 miles away to open farm land for 24hrs a.day every 3 to 4 minutes. Rural roads are taking a beating and the smell on your tires are an added bonus. We are also worried about our drinking water down the road

  7. MKE Kid says:

    I will add that the bovine dairy CAFOs stench is so bad that my eyes start to water a mile downwind from them. And I worked at a family dairy farm when I was in my teens and early twenties in the 1970s, so got spattered upon a lot because the grass fed girls got somewhat stressed at milking time. I like the aroma of cow poo. Just not over a thousand or two of them in a very small concentrated concrete lined area. How can cows or their products be healthy in that environment?

    I cannot even fathom what it’s like to be near a porcine CAFO.

  8. Kurt says:

    Can we apply this argument to the air we breath in Walkers Point and the Third Ward? I recall a day last summer when I was working on a farm in Fredonia when I was hit with a ton of bricks by the smell of home (Walkers Point). The farm owner was about to tell me that the neighbor had fertilized with Milorganite, but I finished her sentence for her because I know that smell all too well. The winter months will end and the smell of sewage and Milorganite will soon return. I wonder how all those “up and coming” building and business owners will feel when they breath in that fresh dookie air.

  9. Erich says:

    Should of never went big. Shut them down and go back to small farms. Create jobs! Let the cows enjoy the pastures again. MORONS!!!

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us