CRAWFORD COUNTY - Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) Wastewater Specialist Tyler Dix educated the Crawford County CAFO Study Group members on WDNR water quality permits. The study group gathered to resume work on their report for the Crawford County Board of Supervisors on Wednesday, June 24.
Dix responded to several questions regarding WDNR enforcement of the Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge and Elimination System (WPDES) permits issued to CAFOs in the state.The first question posed by the Independent-Scout asked what the WDNR enforcement actions had been to date regarding the three significant manure spills and/or fish kills that had occurred in the Driftless Region in 2019.
Those three spills/fish kills were at Wild Rose Dairy of rural LaFarge into Otter Creek; at Manske Family Farms into Bostwick Coulee Creek near Bangor; and Brush Creek in rural Cashton, just below the Mlsna East Towne Dairy. The Wild Rose spill was the second in as many years, and by the time the 2019 spill occurred, WDNR had not yet taken enforcement action on the October 2017 spill.
In the Otter Creek and Bostwick Coulee Creek, the spills resulted from a failure in the manure hauler’s drag line system of manure distribution, according to the WDNR. The WDNR investigated the drag line systems in use at Mlsna East Towne Dairy, but found no conclusive evidence of a failure in the Brush Creek fish spill. However, in the investigation of the Brush Creek fish kill, violations were allegedly discovered by the WDNR at Mlsna East Towne Dairy in seepage from their silage storage pad.
“Our department, working through the Wisconsin Department of Justice, was in the final stages of issuing what we anticipate will be hefty penalties for the 2017 Otter Creek spill, when the next spill occurred in May of 2019,” Dix told the group. “I think that announcement of penalties is expected soon in that case.”
Dix did not address the Bostwick Coulee Creek spill or the fish kill on Brush Creek. The Brush Creek incident, having been discovered by fishermen only after heavy rain had pummeled the watershed, is listed as ‘cause unknown.’ What this means is that there is insufficient evidence to accuse or exonerate any party who may potentially have been the cause of the fish kill.
Wild Rose Dairy’s WPDES permit has been expired since March 31, 2015. Mlsna East Towne Dairy’s WPDES permit has been expired since July 31, 2017. Manske Family Farms is not a permitted CAFO.
“So when a CAFOs permit is not renewed, and the WDNR is working with them to correct permit violations, the operation is still allowed to continue to operate?” Crawford County Conservationist Dave Troester asked.
“Yes, that’s correct,” Dix said. “We will wait to reissue their permit until the violations have been corrected or they can demonstrate they are making progress in correcting them.”
Crawford County dairy farmer and study group member Kim Moret asked Dix about how many CAFO operations had been cited in the last year or two for permit violations.
“It happens fairly regularly,” Dix responded. “On our staff it is Ben Uvaas who keeps track of those statistics, and I will ask him to share that information with your study group.”
WPDES permitsDix opened his presentation to the study group with an overview of the WPDES permitting process. He explained that animal agriculture operations with greater than 1,000 animal units (AU) are considered a Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO, and require a WPDES permit to operate. He said that some operations with less than 1,000 AU may be required to have a permit based on their history of discharges of waste into navigable waters. There are currently 314 permitted CAFOs in the State of Wisconsin.
Showing the study group a graph documenting the growth in number of CAFOs in Wisconsin, Dix explained that in 1985 there was only one permitted CAFO in the state. In the year 2000, there were 93; in 2005, 148; in 2010, 212; and by 2018 that number had grown to 305. Dix said that with the downturn in the agricultural economy in the last several years, growth in numbers had slowed as operations were less likely to pursue expansions.
Another graph showed trends in size distribution for CAFOs with greater then 5,000 AU. In 2010, CAFOs with 5,000 to 5,999 AU, and those with greater than 8,000 AU, were about equal in number. By 2014, the number of permitted CAFOs with greater than 8,000 AU was about double the number in the 5,000-5,999 AU range.
“WPDES permits are water quality protection permits, and are based on the federal NPDES permit program,” Dix explained. “The permits regulate CAFO manure and process wastewater, but not air, odor, noise or traffic. The permit program is not a livestock facility siting program either.”
Dix explained that WPDES permits regulate production areas, and cropped fields where manure from the facility is spread. He also discussed the monitoring requirements, which he said are mostly “self-monitoring.”
“Essentially, there is no allowed discharge of pollution from animal production areas to navigable waters,” Dix explained. “The operation is also required to have a nutrient management plan that meets NRCS 590 and NR 243.”
Dix said that required “self-monitoring” includes daily inspection of water lines; weekly inspections of runoff controls and liquid storage facilities; and quarterly inspections of all production area facilities.
As far as the process for review and approval of permit applications, typically it starts 12 months before the operator plans to exceed 1,000 AU at the new or expanded facility. The operator submits a preliminary application, then the WDNR performs a site visit. Six months before exceeding 1,000 AU, the operator will submit a final permit application. The WDNR will review the application, create a draft permit, provide notice to the public of the draft, conduct a public hearing (if needed), respond to public comments, and then issue the permit.
Roth applicationWDNR’s Claire O’Connell is the Agricultural Runoff Management Specialist who will oversee the process of Roth Feeder Pig’s application for a WPDES permit. She reported to the study group that as of June 14, 2020, Roth Feeder Pigs had submitted what is considered to be a complete application.
O’Connell outlined the plans that Roth had submitted for the proposed new hog CAFO facility in Marietta Township in Crawford County. The plan calls for 2,980 mixed AU, including 960 gilts (under 55 lbs.); 2,008 gilts (over 55 lbs.); 4,144 sows; and 48 boars. The facility will produce 9,427,053 gallons of manure annually, to be spread on 1,295 acres of cropland.
“How are the piglets accounted for in the numbers of animal units?” Crawford Stewardship Project’s Forest Jahnke asked.
“The unweaned piglets are included in the number for the sows,” O’Connell responded.
“Will the compost area be an open-air facility?” Moret asked. “Will any organic matter be added to assist in the composting process, and are there any regulations controlling odor or flies from the area?”
“Yes, it will be open-air on a concrete pad,” O’Connell explained. “The typical additive to piles is sawdust. The farm has proposed odor control measures in their application, but no insect control measures have been proposed.”
“I assume that the compost is intended for dead pigs – is that correct?” Janet Widder asked. “What is the expected death rate, and what happens to that compost?”
“The expected death rate is based on statistics relating to age of the pigs,” O’Connell said. “The compost is handled as another source of solid manure in the operation’s nutrient management plan.”
“The area will have a concrete pad engineered to meet the NRCS 313 standard, with three walls and a roof,” Dix said. “The standard calls for no seepage to be allowed.”
Troester said he had asked Bob Gollnik to address the topic of zoning to regulate siting of livestock facilities. He had asked Gollnik to discuss the topic because one of the comments from some county board members had been that the Town of Marietta should try to solve the problem themselves through means of zoning.
Gollnik discussed several examples of zoning put in place in townships and counties in Wisconsin intended to regulate where siting of CAFOs was allowed. Those included the Town of Lamartine in Fon du Lac County, the Town of Liberty in Vernon County, and the Town of Burns in LaCrosse County.
The ordinance in the Town of Lamartine ties into the county’s Farmland Preservation Plan, and identifies agricultural areas in the town appropriate for CAFOs, and other agricultural areas where CAFOs are excluded.
The Town of Liberty in Vernon County passed their Livestock Facility Licensing Ordinance in 2018. As there are currently no CAFOs sited in the jurisdiction, it was a proactive measure. The township is now considering adding zoning as another layer of restriction.
The Town of Burns in LaCrosse County has Livestock Siting land use ordinances that are based principally on model language from DATCP and guidance from the Wisconsin Towns Association. The town currently has only one facility with greater than 500 AU. The town, according to Gollnik, reports challenges with compliance and enforcement, with the town board responsible for enforcement.
The study group is responsible for providing the Crawford County Board of Supervisors with a final report by October of 2020. The moratorium was originally passed by the board in December of 2019, and is scheduled to end in December of 2020.
“Given the COVID-related restrictions, and the fact the study group has not been able to meet for two months, perhaps the group should consider whether an extension will be required to complete our work,” Jahnke said. “According to DATCP, they consider two years as the maximum acceptable time frame for a moratorium to be in place for the purpose of conducting a study.”
In addition, Jahnke pointed out that the Driftless Area Water Study (DAWS) sampling, originally scheduled to take place in the spring and fall of 2020, had been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The results of that water testing initiative were specifically cited as important information that the Board of Supervisors would consider in their review of the study group’s report,” Jahnke said. “Now, if all goes well, the first sampling in the fall of 2020 will take place after our report is due to the board.”
Troester said that extension of the moratorium would require action by the County Board of Supervisors. Study Group chairman Don Olson said that it would need to go to the Land Conservation Committee first for a recommendation before being taken up by the county board.“We’ve had elections since the moratorium was passed, and we have new members on the board,” Olson said. “I really don’t have any idea at this point whether an extension to the moratorium would pass or not.”