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DNR seeks public input on sensitive area rule revisions

WISCONSIN - The Natural Resources Board (NRB) will meet in Madison on December 12-13 to take up long-awaited changes to two rules of the Wisconsin administrative code relating to manure runoff management.

 The language being considered for adoption by the board specifies only 16 counties in Eastern Wisconsin to be included in the more stringent water quality rules, despite the fact that of the 10 counties in Wisconsin where virtually the entire area has an underlying Silurian bedrock or ‘karst geology, seven are in Western and Southwestern Wisconsin.

Karst is a landscape formed from the dissolution of soluble rocks such as limestone, dolomite and gypsum. It is characterized by underground drainage systems with sinkholes and caves.

Because of its highly fractured nature, in combination with the type of soil typical to the region, the depth of the soil, the height of the water table, and the prevailing land use management in the area, this type of topography can make a region more susceptible to groundwater contamination.

Five of the completely karstic counties in the state are located in Southwest Wisconsin, two in Western Wisconsin, two in South Central Wisconsin, and only one in Eastern Wisconsin.

Counties in the state where virtually the entire area is karstic include Crawford, Door, Grant, Green, Iowa, Lafayette, LaCrosse, Pierce, Richland and Vernon. Counties in the state where most of the area is karstic include Dane, Dodge, Rock, St. Croix and Trempealeau.

Counties where part of the area is karstic include Buffalo, Fondulac, Jefferson, Kewaunee, Manitowoc, Marinette, Monroe, Oconto, Ozaukee, Outagamie, Pepin, Sauk, Shawano, Sheboygan, Walworth, Washington, Waukesha and Winnebago.

Public input welcome

Public input on the rule revisions is welcome. The deadline for notice of intent to provide input is 11 a.m. on Friday, December 8, 2017.

The procedure to testify or submit written comments on items that are on the NRB agenda is:

When registering to testify or submitting a written comment, please provide the following information to the Board Liaison: name, name of organization(s) you represent, agenda item number and whether you support or oppose it, city of residence, phone number, and e-mail or mailing address.

The agenda item is on the Wednesday, Dec. 13 agenda: 2. Action Items, A. Air, Waste, Water, and Enforcement, 1. Request adoption of Board Order WT-15-16, proposed rules affecting chapter NR 151, Wis. Adm. Code, and limited incorporation by reference of those proposed revisions to ch. NR 243 relating to runoff management and nonpoint source performance standards in areas of the state with shallow soils over Silurian bedrock.

The NRB Board Liaison is Laurie J. Ross, Office of the Secretary, Wisconsin DNR,, 608-267-7420, P.O. Box 7921, Madison WI 53707-7921.

Information about the proposed rule revisions can be found at:

NR 151 establishes runoff pollution performance standards for non-agricultural facilities and transportation facilities and performance standards and prohibitions for agricultural facilities and practices designed to achieve water quality standards as required by s. 281.16 (2) and (3), Stats. NR 243 relates to runoff management and nonpoint-source performance standards and Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations

WT 15-16

The draft language document, WT 15-16, it says “The department has found that, in areas of the state where Silurian bedrock is present, groundwater and surface water standards will not be attained by implementing the statewide agricultural performance standards and prohibitions in ch. NR 151, Wis. Adm. Code.

This is because Silurian bedrock has the capacity to allow rapid transport of contaminants without attenuating those contaminants. Silurian bedrock is located in the eastern portions of the state, including areas in Brown, Calumet, Dodge, Door, Fond du Lac, Kenosha, Kewaunee, Manitowoc, Milwaukee, Outagamie, Ozaukee, Racine, Sheboygan, Walworth, Washington and Waukesha counties.

The document goes on to state: This rule identifies “Silurian bedrock” as the targeted area where certain rock formations are overlain by soils of 20 feet or less and establishes performance standards that will apply. The performance standards in the proposed rule are designed to minimize the risk for pathogen delivery to groundwater. Within the Silurian bedrock area, the rule sets forth manure spreading rates and practices that vary according to the soil depth and texture. The most restrictive practices apply to those limited areas of the highest risk for pathogen delivery. Less restrictive requirements apply in areas with 5 to 20 feet to bedrock.

Before mechanically applying manure in the Silurian bedrock area, the proposed rule requires a farmer to verify the depth of soils to bedrock where County soil maps provide an initial indication of less than five feet of depth to bedrock. The farmer’s field verification will establish the boundary of areas where the depth is less than 5 feet and what that depth actually is. This will determine which practices the farmer will need to employ to apply manure on those fields. The methodology to verify depth to bedrock (such as number of borings per acre, time of year taken, etc.) or tools available for this effort is a technical standard, and so will be developed by DATCP rather than DNR. Representatives from DATCP have worked closely with the department in the development of this rule and DATCP is expected to promulgate in ch. ATCP 50 the best management practices, conservation practices or technical standards used to demonstrate compliance with this rule.

CAFOs in the Silurian bedrock areas will be required to comply with the standards in the rule through their WPDES permit, regardless of any local ordinance and absent cost sharing. Large CAFOs are not eligible for cost sharing under chs. NR 153 and 154, but are required to comply with the livestock performance standards in NR 151. A cross reference to the targeted performance standard language will be added to ch. NR 243, Wis. Adm. Code.

Non-permitted farms in Silurian bedrock areas will be required to comply with the standards in the rule in certain limited situations. Where construction of appropriate best management practices is needed for compliance and those practices are eligible for cost share under chs. NR 153 and NR 154, Wis. Adm. Code, non-permitted farms will be required to comply only where cost share is offered. Certain practices are not eligible for cost share under chs. NR 153 and 154, Wis. Adm. Code.  Non-permitted farms may be required to adopt certain changes absent cost share if a local unit of government adopts a local ordinance requiring farms to adopt changes consistent with the rule.

Problems in paradise

Fortunately for the highly vulnerable karstic areas of Southwest Wisconsin and the Kickapoo River Valley, numbers of CAFOs are quite low compared to other areas of the state.

Vernon County currently has a total of four permitted dairy CAFO operations, of which Wild Rose Dairy is one. Crawford County has one permitted swine CAFO; Richland County has two dairy and two swine CAFOs; and Monroe County has three dairy CAFOs.

This, however, could be seen as a reason to be proactive to protect the area’s water. The other approach would be to wait until the area is in a position like the citizens of Kewaunee County, where 30 percent of wells are too polluted to provide drinking water, or like residents of Holmen and Onalaska, where dangerous nitrate pollution levels were identified by the DNR but not reported to public health officials or landowners for over a decade.

We recently saw a massive manure spill in Vernon County at the Wild Rose Dairy in Webster Township where over 1,300 trout were reported killed in Otter Creek, a Class Three trout stream and tributary of the Kickapoo River.

The DNR has been slow to come forward with details of this spill, and their report is, according to Andrew Savagian, Section Chief, DNR Office of Communication, “in the hands of the Wisconsin Department of Justice.”

The DNR investigation, and Department of Justice investigation and findings, are likely to focus on the impact to the surface water of Otter Creek, and to the trout population.

No mention to date has been made of the area over which the manure flowed to reach Otter Creek, and how many direct conduits to groundwater, such as springs, seepages, sinkholes, caves, fractures, and stream sinks, may have been in the path of the spill.

As we’ve seen in the case of Onalaska and Holmen in La Crosse County, the DNR may not tell local residents or county health departments about the factual data regarding impacts to groundwater from runoff management problems from CAFOs and large animal agriculture operators unless forced to do so.

Residents of Viroqua and Westby townships have recently organized to fight the construction and operation of a large hog slaughtering facility proposed for their townships. The issues are about supporting the plant with their wastewater, and the likelihood that the existence of the plant will stimulate more hog CAFOs in the area.

Some citizens of Grant County have been engaged in resistance to the reissuance of a permit for a Kieler Farms CAFO in Lincoln Township, and the Grant County Health Department is considering whether to begin a systematic testing of all wells in the county.

So, not to include the most karstic areas of the state in the proposed rule revisions, seems to be ignoring an existing and growing problem in what is arguably, one of the most vulnerable areas of the state.