By Robyn Mulhaney
Kewaunee County business owner
With the number of cows we live with in Kewaunee County, we, as citizens, are vulnerable. Vulnerable to disease, a diminished economy, plummeting property values and vulnerable to losing the quality of life we have all enjoyed.
The number of CAFOs (confined animal feeding operation) in Kewaunee County is currently 15, with one registered CAFO in Sturgeon Bay. Just one of these operations produces almost 41 million gallons of liquid manure and more than 18.5 million tons of solids annually. This business has applied for a permit to produce 55 million gallons of liquid waste alone by 2017.
Kewaunee County Economic Development’s Quarterly Newsletter for 2013 states 42,000 dairy cows inhabit Kewaunee County. The University of Wisconsin – Green Bay’s Nutrient Management and Dairy Industry program claims that each animal generates 10,000 gallons of total liquid waste annually. That means, nearly half a billion gallons of waste is sprayed over, spread on and injected into our soil, water and air each year.
This manure should be considered untreated sewage because methane digesters and lagoons contain antibiotics, estrogens, bacteria, pesticides, cleaning solutions, heavy metals and protozoa, which are not eliminated or killed before they are dispersed as solids and liquids. The results of this has been an algae-covered shoreline, polluted rivers, contaminated wells, noxious odors and the potential for airborne pathogens.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is currently funding research in Kewaunee County that will allow center pivot irrigation to spray manure over fields and crops. The DNR permit claims the setbacks may be 500 feet from your house, may be 250 feet from your drinking well and may be 25-100 feet from waterways.
Why is Kewaunee County the guinea pig for this study when we are already absorbing at least half a billion gallons of sewage annually? The DNR expedited the dairy industry’s growth in our community so why should we tolerate their research or permitting processes?
Nearly 60 high-capacity wells exist in Kewaunee County, each capable of removing 100,000 gallons of water resources daily. Legislation in the new state budget diminished our right to challenge high-capacity well permits, even when evidence suggests it could contribute to drawing down nearby surface waters. DNR head Cathy Stepp said to large business, “Let me help you walk through process. We (the DNR) can be the biggest hurdle, or help, to businesses navigating through the system to create jobs.” Unfortunately, agriculture owns or manages 80 percent of our land. Our county extension states, “as stewards of the land, farmers use conservation practices, such as crop rotation, nutrient management and integrated pest management, to protect environmental resources and provide habitat for wildlife.” Neither the DNR nor our county’s largest land users seem to consider the rights of others affected by this high-growth industry and an economic monopoly is underway.
Economic development leaders worked with UW – Madison in response to the shutdown of the Kewaunee Power Station. As stated in the study, Kewaunee county “has an abundance of high quality natural resources including fresh water, prime agricultural land and associated industries. The challenge will be to optimize the use of these resources, while retaining the intrinsic beauty of the region, which is an important factor to the tourism potential.”
Ten years ago when I chose to be a part of that tourism potential and applied for permits to clean a wetland area, dig a small lily pond and build an attractive gallery/garden destination, I was told my project would be an eyesore and the growth was not welcome. A few years later the dairy industry exploded. One CAFO built two barns (each the size of three football fields) and another received DNR permits, after a lengthy battle with residential neighbors, to build manure lagoons that hold 76 million gallons of waste, the size equaling 120 Olympic-sized swimming pools. I have found our economic leaders interest in a multi-faceted economy unevolved.
As host to thousands of visitors to my business each year I field many questions regarding the poor water quality, odors and farm sizes they encounter throughout Kewaunee County. Few people know what a CAFO is and I am always embarrassed to explain. The response is most often an incredulous stare.