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DNR releases report on Wild Rose Dairy manure spill
Map 1
This map, provided in the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources report on the Wild Rose Dairy manure spill details the path the 30,000 gallons of spilled manure took to reach Otter Creek, and the location of dams employed to help contain and clean up the manure.

VERNON COUNTY - The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) released their official report on the Wild Rose Dairy manure spill on Tuesday, Nov. 14.

The spill occurred on Monday, Oct. 2 in Webster Township, Vernon County.

Wild Rose Dairy, located at E11310 Buckeye Ridge Road, La Farge, is co-owned by Arthur Thelen and Westby Attorney David L. Abt. Abt is co-founder, co-manager, partner and CFO for Wild Rose Dairy. Established in 1998, the permitted CAFO milks 1,000 head of dairy cows and raises 900 head of heifers, with over 1,600 acres of corn and alfalfa.

The report, now in the hands of the Wisconsin Department of Justice, details that the dairy is in violation of state agriculture/water pollution control laws in Chapter 292, Wisconsin Statutes, and NR 243, Wisconsin Administrative Code, and the conditions of their Wisconsin Pollution Discharge Elimination System (WPDES) Permit #WI-0059072-04-0.

The report states that the violations of the terms of the dairy’s WPDES permit may be subject to a court-ordered compliance, and penalties up to $10,000 per violation. The violations to Chapter 292 could result in forfeitures of up to $5,000 for each violation. Each day of the violation may be considered a separate offense.

Hose failure

The volume of manure spilled from the dairy as a result of a hose failure in the course of pumping liquid manure from a lagoon was reported as “an estimated 30,000 gallons.”

The pumping operation started at 1:40 p.m. on Monday, Oct 2, according to the report. Dairy co-owner Arthur Thelen and his general manager Dustin Harris discovered the leak at 2 p.m., and immediately began operations to clean up the manure.

Thelen did not call the WDNR to notify them that the spill had occurred for more than 24 hours. He left a voicemail message for WDNR agricultural specialist Michelle Scarapace at 4:50 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 3.

The report states that Scarapace received the message at 8 a.m., Wednesday, Oct. 4. In a phone conversation with Thelen, Scarapace instructed him to call the WDNR spills hotline. Thelen called the spill in to the hotline at 9:06 a.m.

By noon, Wednesday, Oct. 4, almost 48 hours after the spill had occurred,  WDNR employees Scarapace, and Tyler Dix, wastewater specialist from Fitchburg, were on the scene of the spill to investigate. They were joined in their investigation by Vernon County Conservationist Benjamin Wojahn, and Vernon County conservation technician Matt Albright.

Down a dry wash

The contour-stripped fields, across Buckeye Ridge Road, to the west of the dairy where the manure spilled, are located on a sloped bowl leading down into a steep forested area. This area drains down to, and eventually merges with, a dry wash or ‘intermittent stream’ which runs alongside Kirking Road, down to County D.

According to maps included in the report, the manure flowed across properties owned by Wild Rose Dairy, John R. Schaefer, E. Miller, and on the west side of County D, on property owned by Gene and Rita Allen.

Thelen told Scarapace in his intial phone conversation with her that the manure had travelled down a dry run, and he and his team had used dams to stop the flow of manure, according to the WDNR’s report.

Thelen stated that they had pumped about 10 loads out of the dams and applied the manure on their fields. They then flushed clean water into the dams, and applied that to their fields.

The report states that Thelen told the assembled DNR and Vernon County Land Water Conservation Department staff that at around 2:15 p.m., neighboring landowners, Phil and Eric Allen, were on-site with two trucks to pump out manure from the first dam.

Thelen said that manure had been pumped from the dam as-needed until about 7 p.m. the night of Monday, Oct. 2. They reported that the second dam had been constructed and employed on Tuesday.

The report also states that Thelen told Scarapace, in their initial phone conversation, that they “had everything cleaned up by Monday night, and that the manure had not crossed County D or entered Otter Creek.”

Obviously, this is not consistent with their statement that they had constructed a second dam across County D, just before the intermittent stream’s confluence with Otter Creek, the morning of Tuesday, Oct. 3.

Two dams used

The first dam used to control the spill was constructed by Webster Township several years before as a flood prevention mechanism. The dam is located on the south side of Kirking Road, approximately 200 yards from the intersection with County D. The dam was constructed of sandy and rocky material.

The second dam, located across the path of the ‘intermittent stream,’ on the west side of County D, before its confluence with Otter Creek, was constructed of dirt, and was made on the morning of Tuesday, Oct. 3.

The report makes clear that the dam is located next to a marked spring, which flows into and feeds Otter Creek.

Dead trout and manure

Scarapace, Dix, Wojahn and Albright walked up the dry wash alongside Kirking Road, to the first dam, on Thursday, Oct. 5, according to the WDNR report. They found a large accumulation of manure solids and pools of liquid manure in the ‘intermittent stream.’

Moving in the opposite direction, following the intermittent stream after it had crossed underneath County D, approaching the confluence with Otter Creek, manure solids were found before and after the second dam, along the streambed.

Walking down alongside Otter Creek, the first dead trout were found 20 feet below the confluence of the intermittent stream and Otter Creek. Continuing on down the creek, more dead trout were found and manure solids were observed along the creek bed.

WDNR and Vernon County LWCD staff then travelled up the hill to the dairy. They informed Thelen about the dead trout, and told him that clean up was not complete as there was still a large quantity of manure in the intermittent stream.

Thelen was to build up the first dam, and with forecasted rain, to monitor and pump from the first dam as needed. Thelen agreed to proceed with building up the first dam later that afternoon.

WDNR staff returned to the creek to take water samples and continued to collect dead trout. They were able to collect dead trout until the creek crossed County D and Allen Road. At that point, the creek was running high and deep, and they reported that it was difficult to see anything.

Measurements of fish collected from Otter Creek were compiled by Kirk Olson, WDNR fisheries biologist. Olson had travelled with a team to the area the next day to assess the creek,  according to the report. Also involved on Saturday, Oct. 7 was Shawna Stringham, Vernon County Conservation Warden.

Including fish collected by Scarapace and Dix on Wednesday, Oct. 4, a grand total of 94 Brook Trout, 1,069 Brown Trout, two Tiger Trout, one White Sucker, and one Brook Stickleback were collected. Of these, 18 Brook Trout and 203 Brown Trout were age one and older.

Flushed out

Stringham was on duty throughout the weekend following the spill, made frequent stops at the first dam which had been further built up by the dairy. She reported that, despite the 3.3 inches of rain received in the area between Oct. 4 through 8, she had not observed the dam to overtop. She reported that she also did not observe any pumping on the part of the dairy.

When WDNR and Vernon County LWCD staff went back to observe the dam on October 10, most of the liquid manure pools had been flushed out. They did continue to observe manure pools just upstream from the first dam, at the bottom of Kirking Road.