Door County Cracks Down on Farms to Protect Groundwater

As a direct result of the mishandled liquid manure spreading by a subcontractor working for the Haberli Farms last September, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has designated the farm as a medium-sized Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO).

A CAFO, as defined by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is a farm with 1,000 or more animals. However, the DNR has the authority to name a smaller operation a CAFO if the farm contaminates a well.

The DNR classified the Sept. 8-9 spreading of manure down a sinkhole, which led to contamination of neighboring wells, as a category 3 discharge, reported Door County Land and Water Conservation Dept. head Bill Schuster at the Jan. 15 meeting of the county’s Land and Water Committee.

Schuster said the Haberlis will have to operate under NR 243, the DNR’s regulations for CAFOs. One of the rules the Haberlis will have to observe going forward is that they cannot spread liquid manure on fields less than 24 inches to bedrock, which Schuster said is more than 50 percent of the 5,000 acres they farm.

“That’s a pretty big change,” he said. “Going forward, Haberli Farms are going to have to make a lot of modifications.”

He said the farm and the hauler would both be issued with citations for the incident, and that it was the second violation.

“They did something similar the year before,” Schuster said, adding that there is no third citation. The Justice Dept. gets involved for the third violation.

Dan Andrae, one of the neighboring victims with a tainted well, said he and his wife Marjorie were “living the dream again. We can drink the water.”

Thanks to a settlement with the Haberlis’ insurance company, Rural Insurance, a water treatment system that includes reverse osmosis and a bacteria-killing UV light was installed.

“We’re satisfied with that,” Andrae said. His wife added that accepting the check meant they could not go after the company for any other damages from that incident.

Paul and Leona Lysne, who also had a contaminated well from the early September incident, said the insurance company had issued a check, which they had put into their bank account, but the company had forgotten to send the release form to them, so had recalled the check. Once the Lysnes received the release form, they sent it to their attorney.

“We’re still waiting and still contaminated,” Leona said.

Schuster also reported that engineers have been unable to find the cause of the Sept. 16 malfunction that caused 640,000 gallons of liquid manure to spill from a holding tank on the Kurt DeGrave farm in the town of Brussels.

Not only could engineers not find a cause, but, knowing how many similar holding systems are scattered across the state, Schuster asked the USDA if something in the standards and specifications of the holding tanks needed modification, and was told modifications are unnecessary.

“I think we all agree we’ll never know what happened there,” Schuster said.

Yet to come, Schuster said, is a meeting between the DNR and DeGrave about future management requirements.

“They will likely require him to do some items to reduce the likelihood of it happening him again,” Schuster said.

The farm will also be issued a citation from the county.

“It comes to a fine, like getting a speeding ticket,” Schuster said.

The audience gasped when he said the citation for this manure spill that the DNR said was the largest in the state since 2005 would be for $263.15.

Several members of the committee also expressed shock at the amount of the fine.

“It didn’t send as strong of a message as I was expecting,” said committee member Mike Vandenhouten.

Schuster explained that it’s the whole idea of getting a citation that has the impact, not the dollar amount.

“For some it’s public relations. Others might be crazy mad about the money,” he said. “It has real effect on people.”

At the previous meeting of the Land and Water Committee, Schuster promised that 2015 would be the year his department really cracked down on threats to the county’s water, and at this meeting he had promising news to share, including a February meeting with DNR officials and probably Kewaunee County officials to discuss water quality issues.

His department also began reviewing nutrient management plans and found many discrepancies.

“They were in most cases incorrect or falsely reporting that things were done,” Schuster said. “We are really unhappy that some of these plans were completely and falsely represented.”

If the plans and reality do not match in the future, Schuster said the county will start with citations and then move on to the process of having nutrient management planners disqualified if they are filing false documents.

“We’ll be sharing all this with nutrient management planners,” Schuster said. “We will have a very big focus on nutrient management plan accuracy.”

He added a warning for the county supervisors on the committee, “I have every expectation that there will be unhappiness and you can expect phone calls.”

Schuster also reported that his department is working on a boilerplate farm lease agreement for landowners, who he said need to be key players in what happens on the land they lease to farmers.

“We have landowners complaining about what’s happening on their own land,” Schuster said, adding that while the county can’t have stricter standards than those declared by the state, the landowners can.

“We want to make landowners aware they have legal responsibilities and liabilities, but extra authority as well,” Schuster said.