By the Board of Directors, Door County Environmental Council
The phosphorus pollution of northeastern Wisconsin’s ground and surface water is a serious and undeniable problem. All of the facts and science behind this water contamination are not currently known.
However, what is known is that there are multiple sources of this phosphorus pollution, including lawn fertilizers and failing septic systems. There also is, we believe, no question that one of the main causes of water contamination is poor manure management by concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) engaged in milk production.
A cow, it seems, produces approximately 18 times the waste of one human being. That means a CAFO with 4,000 cows produces the waste equivalent of a city of 72,000 people. Unfortunately, the big difference is that existing CAFOs do not have waste treatment systems for their animal waste like cities do. The animal waste from these operations – in a liquefied format – is simply being spread on the ground or sprayed into the air via central pivot sprayers.
Currently there are 18 existing CAFOs in Door and Kewaunee counties. These facilities produce tens of millions of gallons of animal waste annually. The manure produced is poured and/or sprayed onto the soil.
This practice may well not be a problem in some parts of the state that have very deep, well-drained soil. Unfortunately, although Door County is blessed with spectacular natural resource beauty, it wasn’t blessed with deep soil. In fact, Door County’s thin soil, porous karst rock, and the fact that it is surrounded by water, make it an extremely poor location for CAFOs.
Some experts believe Door County to be the worst location in the entire state for a CAFO operation. Our thin soil and fractured underlining rock structure allow liquefied manure to quickly permeate and impair both surface and ground water.
In neighboring Kewaunee County, with similar geology and many more CAFOs, one third of the wells that have been tested reveal water that is unsafe for human consumption.
Manure has been declared a pollutant by Wisconsin courts when it reaches the aquifer. It is not that manure, per se, that is the problem. Farmers have been effectively using animal manure as a fertilizer for thousands of years. The problem now in northeastern Wisconsin is the sheer quantity of manure being introduced to limited acreage with very poor filtration capabilities. Our soil is simply being overwhelmed by the vast quantity of manure being applied to it.
In the U. S. we currently have a huge oversupply of milk and cheese, with correspondingly low milk prices. There simply exists no need, or demand, for more milk. It is for these reasons the Door County Environmental Council proposes that no further expansion of CAFOs in Door County take place without adequate and effective onsite animal waste treatment systems.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the Door County Board of Supervisors must implement a moratorium on CAFO expansion in Door County without an animal waste treatment system in place. An effective system is one that would not permit phosphorus or other pollutants to leave the CAFO site in either ground or surface water.
The ultimate solution to the phosphorus contamination in northeastern Wisconsin will be complicated, expensive and time consuming. All stakeholders will need to cooperate in finding an effective solution. In the short run, we must not allow expansion and an increase of this serious phosphorous water contamination problem. A CAFO expansion moratorium is warranted in Door County and in Kewaunee County now.
The Door County Environmental Council Board of Directors is comprised of Steve Eatough, Mike Bahrke, Paul Leline, Eileen Andera, John Beck, Dorothy Anderson Metzel. For more information visit dcec-wi.org.