LA FARGE - The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) announced on Wednesday, Dec. 30, that they have reissued the five-year permit for the Wild Rose Dairy, and approved the dairy CAFO’s expansion plans.
The dairy, located in rural LaFarge has experienced two manure spills into Otter Creek in 2017 and in 2019 for which they have yet to be penalized.
In responding to comments from citizens opposing the reissuance of the dairy’s permit, WDNR acknowledged that since the agency began to permit large operations in 1974, to their knowledge, a WPDES permit “has never been denied.”
“The absence of even one permit denial is not an oversight, and it is not a product of lax enforcement of water quality laws and regulations,” the notice of reissuance explained. “Rather, it is an outcome of a program based on issuing and enforcing operating permits.”
In responding to the comments about this history in the notice of reissuance, WDNR explained that “One of the greatest successes of the adoption of the Clean Water Act was the creation of a permit system to replace the previous regulatory system… The key advantage of the NPDES/WPDES permit program is that it sets out the terms and conditions under which a facility not only needs to operate, but also needs to self-monitor and self-report. There is a significant difference between simply denying or restricting someone’s ability to operate and, conversely, allowing one to operate but under precise, legally and technically defensible conditions. While permits allow pollutants to be added to the environment, this is done in compliance with state groundwater and surface water standards, using the best science available, and under the oversight of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.”
The notice of approval states that “DNR has referred the farm to the Department of Justice (DOJ) for enforcement related to the previous discharge events and failing to timely submit a complete application for permit reissuance… The enforcement action at DOJ is separate from this permitting action. Issuance of a permit to the farm does not resolve or in any way affect the outstanding enforcement action at the Department of Justice.”
The new five-year permit will expire on June 30, 2025. This is the third permit issued to the dairy, which currently has 1,784 animal units, and plans to expand to 2,812 animal units. With the expansion, Wild Rose Dairy plans to construct a new heifer barn, manure storages, and upgrades to the feed storage area.
At least three outstanding issues remain with the operation, relating to manure storage.
The first is that the existing manure storage structure was evaluated by engineers in 2019, and requires further investigation. In order for this investigation to be performed, the structure will need to be drained. This requires the construction of the two new storage structures, which when combined with the existing structure will provide the dairy with about 400 days of storage.
The second issue is that the current feed storage structure is not adequate to prevent potential runoff of contaminants, and requires an upgrade.
Perhaps the most significant issue facing this and other CAFO operations is the changing patterns of precipitation, which have hit the Driftless Area particularly hard in recent years.
A new study, ‘Stochastic Storm Transposition (SST) to Update Rainfall Intensity-Duration-Frequency (IDF) Curves for the Coon Creek and West Fork Kickapoo Watersheds.’ commissioned by USDA-NRCS, and undertaken by researchers from UW-Madison, documents those rainfall definitions for storm events have been changing rapidly in recent years. The study was commissioned as part of the watershed study about dam failures in August of 2018. It shows that traditional rainfall definitions seem to be shifting down one level, so for in-stance the ‘100-year storm’ is becoming the ’50-year storm.’
In the notice of permit reissuance, it is noted that design standards for manure and feed storage areas reference the ’25-year-24-hour rainfall event’ as the minimum design metric. The requirements are described as being “consistent with ch. NR 243, which regulates ‘Animal Feeding Operations.’
“Wis. Admin. Code NR 243 allows for the use of more recent rainfall probability data verified by a government agency and approved by WDNR for the design standard,” the notice says. “WDNR and other agencies such as NRCS and DATCP have been using the NOAA Atlas 14 rainfall probability depths for design since 2015. The Atlas 14 data superseded the TP-40 rainfall depths which are in Table 1 of NR 243. NRCS and WDNR are aware of the desire to update the Atlas 14 rainfall probability depths given the intense rainfall events in the past few years occurring across the state. An update to the rainfall probability depths could result in an increase in… required containment volume [for manure and feed storage structures].
Climate change impact
A comment was made by one of the participants at a public hearing regarding reissuance of Wild Rose Dairy’s permit that addressed climate change.
“As climate change increases the likelihood and intensity of extreme precipitation events in Wisconsin, the currently used 25-year-24-hour rainfall event is likely to lead to an increased amount of permitted discharges… WDNR should create a more suitable rainfall event standard or include a permit term that provides flexibility to regulate more stringently should new climate change data or models be published during the permit term.”
In the notice of reissuance, WDNR responded to the comment as follows:“As discussed, WDNR may use updated rainfall probability depths as they are verified by the appropriate government agency. Liquid waste storage volume calculations and maximum operating level (MOL) calculations are routinely redone for submitted engineering plans and engineering evaluations involving liquid waste storage. This may occur throughout a CAFO’s permit term. These calculations would be reviewed to the current accepted rainfall depths at the time.”