The largest manure spill in Wisconsin since 2005 took place at the Kurt DeGrave farm, 10005 County D in Brussels, on Sept. 16 when 640,000 gallons of cow waste flowed out of an above-ground 2 million gallon holding tank.
A spill response team from the Department of Natural Resources helped contain the spill, which started at about 2 am.
“We had people out at the site at about 5 am, so it looks like the responsible party called it in immediately,” said Jason Lowery of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
Lowery said a valve on the manure pit was not closed properly, but it has not been determined whether that was mechanical failure or human error.
“We re still looking into that,” he said. “Right now we’re just focusing on containing the spill and cleaning it up. Then we’ll look into how it happened.”
Bill Schuster, head of the Door County Soil and Water Conservation Department, said his staff will be involved in determining what happened.
“Were trying to understand why things happened,” he said. “The DNR is doing the more thorough runoff evaluation and spill control, but it’s actually a joint project because our staff is very much involved in trying to figure out what happened. At some point the DNR and the county will have discussions regarding potential enforcement. We both have some enforcement authority in a situation like this. That’s a couple days down the line.
The spill entered a ditch and flowed into nearby Sugar Creek, which was dry at the time.
“There was a series of berms constructed by contractors that were hired by Kurt DeGrave,” Lowery said. “They’re working on cleaning up the manure at the furthest downgrading of the berm, which is just a little bit south of Hwy 57. The berms act as dams and prevent the manure from flowing any farther. Then they bring in vacuum trucks to suck up manure from those locations.”
The vacuumed manure is then brought to another nearby manure storage tank.
The DeGrave farm is not considered a CAFO, which means it has fewer than 700 milking cows.
Despite the huge amount of manure spilled, DNR spokesman Ed Culhane said, “It was nowhere near the worst in environmental damage.”
“We got really lucky with two things,” he said. “First, unlike much of the karst topography in that area, with fractured bedrock that easily allows contaminants in, the soil was pretty thick and hard. Second, it was nice, dry weather. If there had been rain, it would have been much harder to control. It was a pretty straightforward cleanup.”
The 2005 spill still holds the record for the amount of spilled manure. That spill in Iowa County amounted to almost 1 million gallons.