CRAWFORD COUNTY - Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) announced Friday, May 6, that they have approved the Water Pollution Discharge Elimination System (WPDES) water quality permit for the Roth Feeder Pigs II Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO).
The five-year permit will allow construction of the new facility on Harvest Lane in Marietta Township, and its operation through May 31, 2027. The site will house 2,981 animal units (8,160 head of swine including 5,144 sows, 960 nursery pigs, 2,008 gilts, and 48 boars), and generate approximately 9.4 million gallons of manure and process wastewater annually. This untreated waste will be spread on 1,387.9 acres of cropland in Marietta Township and nearby Citron Creek Valley.
The full PDF of the Notice of Final Determination can be found and downloaded at: https://dnr.wisconsin.gov/topic/CAFO/RothII
Both the Town of Marietta, and Crawford County, at different times, imposed CAFO moratoriums designed to allow citizens to study the impacts of CAFOs. Ultimately, the moratoriums were intended to allow citizens and local governments the time and information needed to draft ordinances that could regulate CAFO operations in their jurisdictions.
No such outcomes came from either effort. However, an extensive final study was provided to the Crawford County Board of Supervisors prior to their tabling a vote on whether or not to extend the moratorium in December of 2020.
After an unheard of delay of almost a year from the May 24, 2021 public hearing, WDNR finally issued their ‘Notice of Final Determination’ (NOFD) on Friday, May 6, 2022. Despite a tsunami of citizen input asking for the permit to be denied, or for additional studies, or for special permit conditions to protect water, air, health, roads, property values, wildlife, wetlands and rare species, no additional permit conditions will be imposed by the permit.
Despite the fact that water quality monitoring in the vicinity of Roth’s original hog CAFO in Wauzeka Township has documented impaired ground and surface waters, and his own nutrient management records demonstrate excessive phosphorous levels in fields used to spread manure from that facility, private well owners in the area are told that they are ‘on their own’ in protecting their wells and ensuring their water is safe to drink.
WDNR’s response makes clear that they understand that water may already be being negatively impacted.
“The department recognizes that impaired waterways exist in the vicinity of Roth Feeder Pig II,” WDNR responds in the NOFD. “The department agrees with commenters that protection of these waters is important. The CAFO WPDES permitting program is intended to protect all types of surface waters.”
The NOFD goes on to say:
“These [PERMIT] requirements eliminate or minimize the potential for discharges to waters of the state. Impacts may still occur, particularly in cases of permit noncompliance; however, the permit provides a means to avoid potential impacts to water quality and address those impacts if they occur.”
One citizen testifying at the public input meeting asked: “Who is responsible for monitoring private wells in the vicinity of the proposed operation? Roth Feeder Pig II should be required to monitor nearby private wells. Roth Feeder Pig II should be required to replace wells that are contaminated by the operation. Nitrate has the potential to pollute groundwater, which can cause health impacts, and many wells in Wisconsin already have high nitrate levels.”
Regarding private wells owned by the operation’s neighbors, the NOFD reads:
“The operation is not required to monitor its drinking water wells; however, the department recommends owners of private wells sample their wells on an annual basis.”
It goes on to say:
“Homeowners with levels of nitrates or other contaminants in exceedance of state drinking water standards should contact their local DNR private water supply specialist. If a homeowner suspects their well is contaminated with manure, they should immediately contact a regional WDNR Private Water Supply specialist or CAFO specialist to investigate the source of contamination. Where the source of the contamination can be identified, the DNR will determine the appropriate enforcement response. In some cases, the DNR can provide an emergency source of water, technical assistance for well treatment or replacement options and/or financial assistance for well replacement.”
Last summer’s Clean Wisconsin vs. DNR State Supreme Court ruling established that the DNR does have the authority to require water testing, and to cap animal numbers as permit conditions for large-scale animal operations.
“At some point, there is just no more land on which such massive amounts of manure can be safely stored or spread,” Clean Wisconsin Staff Attorney Evan Feinauer said. “The Supreme Court understood this when it agreed that WDNR has the authority to place limits on the size of these farms to protect water quality.”
Citizens testifying at the public hearing for the Roth Feeder Pigs II WPDES permit requested that WDNR do all of the things legitimated in the State Supreme Court ruling. WDNR did none of these things.
In response to a request that the department install groundwater monitoring wells, both at the site of the production facility, as well as in fields where manure will be spread, the NOFD read:
“The production area is proposed to be located on a ridge over an area with karst bedrock, overlain by clay soils with an average depth to water of about 327 feet, according to well construction reports on the property. The site will be newly constructed, with a design plan that meets the NRCS 313 standard. A perimeter drain tile system is proposed around the waste storage facilities to aid with leak detection.
“Most of the land application sites are located on ridge tops. The nature of karst bedrock and the large depth to groundwater make it difficult to place effective groundwater monitoring wells. In fact, due to the depth to groundwater, installation of monitoring wells may actually increase the risk of contamination, since monitoring well construction is not regulated as stringently as water supply wells.
“Other land application sites are in Citron Valley. Despite the presence of some seams of sand and gravel and a couple of wells with apparently shallow groundwater, the conceptual model is an aquifer that is protected by surficial clay and shale bedrock with an average depth to water of about 44 ft. This is not an aquifer that is highly susceptible to groundwater contamination.
“Groundwater monitoring is not required for the production area or land application sites at this time.”
One citizen who testified at the public hearing asked:
“The department relied on a bedrock map from 1876, and that the surface formation at the site could be Platteville Limestone instead of Prairie du Chien Dolomite, due to the comparison of well construction reports for wells SJ675 and SJ643. Little is known about the site hydrogeology or hydrostratigraphy. Karst geology can change over time and voids beneath the production area could become larger. Comments requested a detailed, systematic geologic study, including resistivity testing.”
In the NOFD, WDNR responded:
“There is limited geologic information available for the site. The plans and specifications for the production area meet required setbacks to bedrock and groundwater. Roth Feeder Pig II will allow the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey to perform a geophysical survey of open boreholes when the farm drills water supply wells. This will provide valuable geologic information.
“Electromagnetic resistivity testing is not necessary at this time. No sinkholes were identified within the vicinity of the production area. The Bedrock Geologic Map of Wisconsin (1982) reflects a Prairie du Chien Dolostone surface formation. Whether the formation beneath the production area is Platteville Limestone or Prairie du Chien Dolomite would not impact the plans and specifications review de-termination. The 23 [20-foot-deep] soil borings conducted for the plans and specifications package did not detect voids beneath the production area.”
During the public input meeting, it was brought to WDNR’s attention that a petition with over 200 signatures requested the department conduct an Environmental Impact Study (EIS), and that it is disappointing that citizens must fight so hard for an EIS to be conducted.
Those citizens contented that an EIS should be required for all CAFO permit actions. The proposed permit is a major action, and is not compliant with Wisconsin Environmental Policy Act due to the lack of an EIS. They contended that only one EIS has been conducted for a CAFO since NR 150 was revised in 2016. Plans and specifications should also require an EIS. They asked what is the average cost of an EIS; what are the three primary reasons for initiating an EIS; and what is the threshold for the number of citizens requesting an EIS for department to initiate one?
In summary, they contended that an environmental impact statement (EIS) should be conducted prior to issuing the operation’s WPDES permit since the current permit documents did not constitute a sufficient record.
WDNR’s response in the NOFD read:
“This WPDES permit action is an integrated analysis action under s. NR 150.20 (2) 3w., Wis. Adm. Code, and does not require a separate environmental analysis process. The department has complied with ch. NR 150, Wis. Adm. Code, and s. 1.11, Stats. The documents and information listed below were used as part of the department’s processing of the permit application and supporting the integrated analysis determination:
• The WPDES final permit application package including forms and maps.
• A storm water Construction Site Notice of Intent; Permit coverage was issued on March 29, 2021. As part of the intake process, the project area was screened for Natural Heritage Inventory (NHI), archeological/historical impacts, and wetland/hydric soils. All screenings were clear or have been cleared.
• Liquid manure storage capacity calculations were reviewed on September 4, 2020 and confirmed the operation has at least 180 days of storage.
• Plans and Specifications were submitted for the waste storage, waste transfer, and mortality composting area. The department conditionally approved the plans on August 5, 2020.
• Conditional approval on September 11, 2020 of the permittee’s Nutrient Management Plan.
• Hydrogeologic review was conducted March 19, 2021.”
Citizens testifying at the public input meeting contended that the original Roth Feeder Pigs facility has already driven up phosphorous levels in fields where manure is spread higher than is allowed, and that the steep terrain in fields where manure from the new facility will be spread presents a high likelihood of runoff.
In the NOFD, all WDNR had to say is the following:
“The operation’s nutrient management plan (NMP) is consistent with requirements contained in NR 243.14 and NRCS 590. Not every field is fit to have manure land-applied annually, so it is managed as a system over a several year crop rotation. The animal unit to acreage ratio is not directly indicative of an issue with land base or size.
“NR 243.14 limits commercial Phosphorus (P) applications when fields are over 50 parts-per-million (ppm) soil test P. It also requires a rotational P drawdown on fields with a soil test P over 100 ppm or higher and an outright prohibition of P applications from manure/process wastewater on fields with a soil test P of 200 ppm or higher.
“The operation’s nutrient management plan demonstrates that these fields are meeting compliance over the rotation for tolerable soil loss, and the Phosphorus Index (PI) is at six for these fields which is within limits for the rotation. The permittee demonstrates annually that fields meet tolerable soil loss and PI requirements.
“Any precipitation-related discharges of pollutants which occur from land application areas after compliance with permit and nutrient management plan requirements are considered agricultural storm water discharges, which are not subject to WPDES permitting.”
One citizen testifying at the public hearing contended that water quality permit regulations are often inadequate for CAFOs. Extreme weather is making regulations more inadequate. Is the site resilient and adaptable to extreme weather of greater than 100-year events? Provide documentation on resiliency, and this type of land use, for the nutrient management plan. Controls for a 100-year event over 24 hours provides inadequate protection, especially in extreme ongoing weather conditions. Will the designs withstand extreme weather events?
In the NOFD, WDNR responded regarding whether the manure storage might overtop, or flood:
The waste storage design plans and NMP have demonstrated compliance with the applicable standards (NRCS 590, NRCS 313, NR 243, etc.). Waste storage facilities for new source swine operations are required to be constructed to withstand a 100-year, 24-hour storm event. The risk of water quality impacts from overtopping storage facilities is significantly reduced since the production area is proposed completely under roof so that no precipitation enters the storages. The production area is also located on a ridge top, which reduces potential impacts from flooding.
The response had nothing to say about outdated Atlas 14 rainfall definitions used in the design specifications for the facility and runoff management, nor about the increased likelihood of runoff from fields where manure is spread.
The language in the NOFD references “average precipitation levels,” which are the levels as represented by the outdated 2012 Atlas 14 data currently used by USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and WDNR.
One has only to think of the catastrophic rainfall that impacted Marietta and Wauzeka townships in 2019, and the rain event that impacted areas just to the north in Seneca and Eastman townships on June 26, 2021. In that most recent rain event, from 8-12 inches of rain fell in six hours or less, and caused catastrophic flash flooding. In the 2019 event, the rainfall came late in the season when manure is most likely to be spread on fields.
Outdated Atlas 14 data is used not only to define precipitation events, but also in a variety of other ways by WDNR’s CAFO program.
According to Eric Struck of the Wisconsin DNR, engineering staff from his department say that USDA-NRCS, Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP), and the DNR CAFO program all use Atlas 14 rainfall depths in calculating rainfall volumes for all of their review-able facilities - manure storage structures, pipe capacity, etc. He said that the state NR 243, which regulates ‘Animal Feeding Operations,’ has the old Technical Paper 40 rainfall depths, but says that the wording is such that they use newer, approved data. Struck said that “agencies switched around 2015, and updated rainfall depths are currently being worked on.”
Jennifer Heaton-Amhrein, DATCP Land Resources Section Chief, reports that, according to a DATCP engineer, DATCP uses Atlas 14 data for the DNR CAFO Program, the DATCP Conservation Engineering Section, and the conservation partners we service and work with such as NRCS and County Land Conservation Departments have been using this revised rainfall data for projects since 2015 for the following types of practices:
• Animal waste storage facilities (manure, barnyard runoff, milk house waste)
• Feed storage area runoff collection and treatment
• Grassed and lined waterways
• Roof gutter and clean water diversion
• Vegetated Treatment Areas (VTA)
• Other erosion and sediment control practices (grade stabilization, Water & Sediment Control Basins, etc.)“The Atlas 14 rainfall data has been incorporated into the majority of hydrology programs and analysis tools that we use in designing conservation practices that use peak runoff and runoff volume calculations,” Heaton-Amhrein said.