CRAWFORD COUNTY - The Crawford County CAFO Study Group met via Zoom on Tuesday, July 28. At that meeting they heard Dr. Kelvin Rodolfo discuss karst geology and heard USDA-NRCS District Conservationist for Crawford County Karyl Fritsche discuss the NRCS 313 standard for design of manure storage facilities.
There was also a discussion of whether an extension would be needed for the CAFO Study Group to complete their study.
Crawford Stewardship Project’s Forest Jahnke raised the question of whether a one-year extension of the county’s CAFO moratorium would be required to allow the group to complete their study.
“The group’s report is due to the County Board by October, and that means among other things that the results of the first round of Driftless Area Water Study (DAWS) well testing results will not yet be available,” Jahnke said. “Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been many missed meetings, and delay of the DAWS testing is just one example.”
Jahnke pointed out that the results of the DAWS well testing were an item that county board members who voted for the moratorium were particularly interested in.
“COVID has thrown everything for a wrench,” Crawford County Public Health Director Cindy Riniker said. “I support an extension of the moratorium.”
Jahnke pointed out that the decision to extend the moratorium would be a multi-part process involving consideration by the Land Conservation Committee, and then consideration by the Crawford County Board of Supervisors.
“If the moratorium is going to be extended, then we need to start those discussions now,” Jahnke said.
CAFO Study Group Kim Moret raised the issue of whether Roth Feeder Pigs would sue the county if the moratorium were extended.
“This study group needs legal advice about the Right to Farm laws, and what our liabilities will be if Roth Feeder Pigs takes us to court,” Moret said. “Marietta Township doesn’t have any zoning in place, and if we extend the moratorium, we’re going to be in court. If the county loses, they will have to pay all of AV Roth’s legal costs as well as their own.”
Study group chairman County Supervisor David Olson agreed with Moret that the group should seek out legal advice.
“If we do extend the moratorium, it can only be for one year, and if it expires then it is an issue for Marietta Township,” Olson said. “Perhaps, we should take this up at our Land Conservation Committee Soil and Water Concerns Zoom meeting on Tuesday, August 11, at 10 a.m.”
UW-Extension Cooperative Educator and Study Group member Jessica Spayde posed the question “Who’s liable for groundwater pollution?”
Fritsche responded that that is a question for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Olson said that “it’s hard to prove where groundwater pollution is coming from.”
Kim Moret reminded the group that at the last Land Use Committee meeting, Zoning and Sanitation Supervisor Jake Shedivy had briefed the group about the large number of undocumented septic systems remaining in the county.
“It’s not only farmers that can sue the county,” CAFO Study Group member Janet Widder pointed out. “This isn’t just an agriculture issue – it’s a community issue and a rural well owners issue. It is also not just a Marietta Township issue.”
Marietta Township landowner Kevin Colson weighed in on the issue.
“Generating the report isn’t the only important thing,” Colson said. “Lots of questions remain unanswered, and none of what the study group has done so far has addressed community rights.”
UW-Extension Cooperative Educator Jessica Spayde, who sits on the study group, suggested that a public hearing could be scheduled using Zoom.
“On Zoom, we could accommodate up to 300 people and I have experience in facilitating these kinds of meetings,” Spayde said.
Olson suggested that the LCC could discuss setting a date for a public hearing at their August 11 meeting.
Dr. Kelvin Rodolfo, PhD, is a Profesor Emeritus of Earth & Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois-Chicago. He is now a small-scale permaculture farmer in rural Viroqua.
“I have been studying the Driftless Area since the 1970s,” Rodolfo said. “I have maintained my professional interest in the geology of the region because of the way that it makes our groundwater vulnerable.”
Rodolfo explained that in karst rock, water occupies fractures and voids, and flows rapidly through them. Rodolfo showed the group an image of the layers of rock typical in the Driftless, and which are karstic.
“The karst rock itself can be the aquifer as is seen in eastern Wisconsin counties like Kewaunee County,” Rodolfo explained. “This means that the water is found in the shallower karstic layers, and if the pollution stops, the aquifer can be flushed out and cleaned. But this is unusual.”
Rodolfo said that what is more common is for well water not to come out of underground pools or streams. Rather, as in the Driftless Area, it comes out of pores between grains of sand located more deeply in the bedrock profile. In these kind of rocks, water can flow only a few inches or feet per day through them.
“What this means is that our aquifers in the Driftless Area – once they’re polluted, they’re polluted forever,” Rodolfo stated.
Rodolfo told the group that another feature of karst makes impoundments such as those behind flood control dams or in manure storage structures particularly dangerous.
“This area is dotted with sink holes, and what those are is holes in the karst that have become so large they are caves,” Rodolfo explained. “When those caves collapse, that’s when you get a sinkhole.”
Rodolfo said that there is no way to tell if there is a structural weakness underlying the location where a manure pit might be sited, or if one will develop over time.
“Have any of your presentations been presented in court against someone who is building a CAFO?” Kim Moret asked.
“Not yet, but they may be soon in Viroqua where they are considering a landfill expansion,” Rodolfo responded.
“Did you eat breakfast this morning,” Moret asked Rodolfo. “Because, if you did you need to thank a farmer.”
“The quality of the food you eat depends on the quality of the water,” Rodolfo said. “My question for you is did you drink water this morning? We’ve all got to have access to clean water.”
USDA-NRCS District Conservationist for Crawford County Karyl Fritsche educated the study group about the USDA-NRCS Waste Storage Facility (313) Practice. She said that the standard is reviewed, adjusted and agreed upon about every five years, and was last updated in October of 2017. She said that most state laws regulating waste storage facilities cite the NRCS standard for compliance.
“This standard applies where regular storage is needed for wastes generated by agricultural production or processing,” Fritsche explained. “It is used where soils, geology and topography are suitable for construction of the facility, and where construction, operation and maintenance will protect the soil and water resources.”
Kim Moret stated that Roth Feeder Pigs has not signed up for USDA-NRCS funding to build his facility. She asked what percentage of operators constructing new waste storage facilities seek USDA-NRCS assistance.
“For new construction, 90-95 percent use USDA-NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program funding,” Fritsche responded.
Crawford County Conservationist Dave Troester asked Fritsche who performs the site assessments if a waste storage facility is built without seeking USDA funding.
“The operator will need to seek a WPDES permit from the WDNR,” Fritsche said. “In that case the NRCS State Conservation Engineer and a DATCP engineer would evaluate the siting for new construction, with the engineer taking the liability for their assessment.”
Rodolfo pointed out to Fritsche that in karst geology, just because a site may seem suitable at first does not mean that a new sinkhole could not appear from an underground collapse. Jessica Spayde asked Fritsche if the NRCS process looked for underground caves below where waste storage facilities are sited in karst geology.
“There are limitations on how deep a site investigation has to go,” Fritsche said. “Our investigations would not find any deep caves, but I will say that no waste storage structure in Wisconsin has failed because of where it is sited.”
Fritsche explained that the standard takes into account what are considered “sensitive environmental settings.” The standards prohibit siting in proximity to direct conduits to groundwater such as wells or sinkholes, regardless of property lines. Specifically, they addresss:
• facilities with any part of the storage floor below existing ground surface, a sinkhole or other karst feature is present within 400 feet horizontally from the footprint of the proposed storage facility
• for above ground structures where the storage floor is entirely above existing ground surface, a sinkhole or other karst feature is present within 200 feet horizontally from the footprint of the proposed storage facility.
Cindy Riniker asked Fritsche how those distances are defined if the whole area is karstic?”
“The direct conduits to groundwater that determine siting decisions have to be visible from the surface,” Fritsche said.
Kim Moret asked if runoff was of concern in a hog facility, with a slatted floor storage and a roof over it.
“It would only be of concern if there was no roof,” Fritsche said.
The Independent-Scout asked, given the ever-increasing rainfall events the area has seen in recent years, if the definitions of the ‘100-year-storm” and ‘24-hour-rainfall’ were up to date, and if not, were the standards to which waste storage structures are designed adequate to address these larger rainfalls?
“Those definitions are re-evaluated every five years, and use data from other federal agencies,” Fritsche said. “They are next scheduled to be reevaluated in 2022.”
Troester said that he had recently spoken with WDNR Engineer Supervisor Bernie Michaud about how the WDNR reviews plans.“He told me that WDNR uses LiDAR to identify direct conduits to groundwater in the proposed area for siting a waste storage structure, which gives them a lot of very specific detail about the site,” Troester said. “They are still in preliminary stages of review, but he told me there have been no immediate red flags.”