It is unclear how much manure was released in a spill from the Misty Morning Dairy last Thursday, Feb. 18, and likely to remain so, according Mark Caine, a wastewater engineer with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
The spill, which occurred at 3679 Wood Road, approximately two miles northeast of Fennimore, resulted from a failed hose coupling at some point during the night, leaving a trail of manure that extended two miles to Castle Rock Creek, a Class 3 trout stream.
“It pumped overnight, but we don’t know when the coupling failed, nor was there a gauge or flow meter on the pump,” Caine said.
The DNR will work on creating an estimate at some point in the near future, but for now is focusing on addressing the immediate needs arising from the spill, Caine indicated. He is the Fitchburg-based engineer responsible for responding to issues relating to concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in Crawford, Dane, Grant, Green, Iowa, Lafayette, Richland, Rock, Sauk, and Vernon counties.
“This is still an ongoing situation,” Caine said. “It is not over by any means.”
Castle Rock Creek was checked extensively Saturday and Sunday, with a crew performing a more thorough survey on Monday, according to Caine, and will continue to be monitored. At least 50 dead trout have been reported.
“The initial clean-up along Wood Road is complete,” Caine said.
The initial response involved crews setting up berms to contain the spill from spreading further.
“We don’t know for sure the extent this has spread downstream,” Caine said. “We are concentrating on an area of two miles.”
Caine noted he had not compared timelines to determine how the DNR first heard of the spill, but he noted the landowner did call the spill hotline that morning as well as attempting to contact Caine at his office.
The spill did not prompt an inspection of the farm by Caine. Nor is it clear what, if any, enforcement action may be taken.
The DNR uses a stepped enforcement plan for CAFO permits, Caine explained. They range from doing nothing to ticketing for non-compliance to referring the matter to the Department of Justice for action. In this case, Caine noted that the landowner did what they are required to do by law when they notified the DNR of the spill. That will be taken into account when the agency determines any enforcement action.
The Grant County Health Department was also called into action by the spill. They were onsite and conducted well tests for the three closest neighbors whom they deemed most likely to be affected by the spill.
“Luckily, those tests came back ok,” said department head Jeffrey Kindrai. “We will be back out in two weeks to retest.”
Kindrai expressed hope that the ground was still frozen well enough to stop the manure spill from filtering into the groundwater, but noted that the possibility that it could get into the groundwater is cause to retest for safety’s sake.
The county health staff that responded provided bottled water to the property owners whose wells were tested as a safety precaution, Kindrai noted. They were also cautioned to continue using bottled water until the second test if they had immune or other health issues to minimize risk.
“We have no reason to believe that these wells are unsafe, but we are still concerned that it is possible that the manure could get into the groundwater yet,” Kindrai said. “We always recommend people have their wells tested every year. There are many ways your well can become polluted if the seal is cracked, not just instances like this.”
Retired Wisconsin DNR warden Chuck Horn, who lives on Wood Road, reported the spill on Thursday morning. He told the Wisconsin State Journal that he found the manure spill running through a snow and ice covered spring flow in his yard, in a stream he described as seven inches deep and 18 inches wide. That spring flow empties into the Fennimore Branch of the Blue River.
Horn tracked the manure back about a quarter-mile to its source. A 4-foot-wide stream ran over the snow for about 100 yards from the area where the farm’s manure pits are located to the road.
Horn is currently assisting the DNR with monitoring Castle Rock Creek.
The section of Castle Rock Creek where the manure entered is a Class 3 trout stream, which means it is considered marginal trout habitat that requires annual stocking for fishing purposes. A few miles downstream, it is reclassified as Class 2 because trout sometimes reproduce naturally, though it is also stocked.
Misty Morning Dairy is currently permitted for pollution discharges as a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation.
The spill is not the first in the CAFO’s history.
In March 2013, the owner of Misty Morning Dairy required assistance from the DNR to prevent a 1-million-gallon manure pit from overflowing. The farm was filing for bankruptcy and was unable to pay haulers to empty the storage pit. According to the DNR environmental cleanup report, the state paid $50,000 to hire a private waste hauler to remove the manure.
Ten months later, the DNR reissued Misty Morning’s permit for pollution discharges as a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation, allowing the business to expand from 1,340 animals in 2013, to a projected 1,719 in 2014.
The dairy was cited for non-compliance in September 2014 for a violation of land
application rules for spreading manure.