Letter to the Editor: More Work Required to Prevent Water Contamination by CAFOs

As I write this, the royal flush continues in Kewaunee County, where more than 700 million gallons of cow manure are produced annually. 

Kewaunee County currently has 16 CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations). The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) had one specialist overseeing these operations, plus two each in Door and Brown counties.

The Kewaunee County Land and Water Conservation Department’s main function is to help protect and preserve our natural resources. Currently, it has two and a half employees, as noted in an April 12, 2022, committee meeting, and this department must also maintain the county’s sanitary department.

The Peninsula Pride group has estimated that it has 28,805 acres in no-till practices and cover crops, which is equivalent to 21,000 football fields. That’s a start, but it hardly makes a dent, considering there are more than 175,000 agricultural-use acres available in Kewaunee County. 

A Wisconsin Supreme Court decision in July 2021 gave the DNR the ability to set herd caps in Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits and include well monitoring for contamination sources. This is in great part because of the efforts of regular folks who endured almost 10 years of litigation to bring to light private-well contamination by manure.

Violations for various manure spills and runoffs have not stopped. Private well tests show no dramatic downward trend in coliform, nitrate or E. coli contamination, even after six years. Read the report from the Environmental Working Group and Midwest Environmental Advocates, which single out Kewaunee County as overapplying both manure and fertilizer, causing issues with water contamination.

Sue Weisser

Kewaunee, Wisconsin