The Evolution of Door County Groundwater Policy

Seventy percent of Wisconsin residents and 97 percent of communities in this state rely on groundwater as their drinking source. That is the simple reason why we want to keep it free of things that make us sick, especially in this eastern dolomite aquifer that is so easily contaminated due to shallow soil and fractured bedrock.

400 to 425 million years ago

Dolomite rock formations created from Door County into Illinois. It consists of Niagara dolomite underlain by Maquoketa shale. Dolomite is fraught with fractures and pores, making it easily susceptible to contamination.


First farmers in Door County arrive and start felling trees to make room for farmland. According to Hjalmar Holand in his History of Door County, serious farming did not begin until 1870, and by the time he wrote his book in 1917, more than 70 percent of the population lived on farms, most of those being dairy farms.


The state enacts Soil Conservation Districts in order to receive technical assistance from the U.S. Soil Conservation Service.


Paul Murphy, a full-time technician of the U.S. Soil Conservation, is assigned to work with Door County farmers through July 1, 1950. This sets groundwork for modern Soil and Water Conservation Departments.


Congress passes the Clean Water Act, making it illegal to discharge pollutants without permission and permits, and establishes goals to make the nation’s waters fishable and swimmable by 1983. It is essentially a modified and expanded version of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1948, which was the first major law that dealt with U.S. water pollution issues.


The Safe Drinking Water Act is passed by Congress to protect public health by regulating the nation’s public drinking water supply, incorporating groundwater protections not included in the Clean Water Act.


The Wisconsin Legislature creates the Nonpoint Source Water Pollution (Priority Watershed) Program, which becomes a national model by offering to share costs with landowners and communities that voluntarily take steps to keep soil, nutrients and construction site sediment from washing into streams and lakes.


Wisconsin Act 410, Wisconsin’s Comprehensive Groundwater Protection Act, is passed and leads to creation of Chapter 160, Wisconsin Statutes. The law expands Wisconsin’s legal, organizational and financial capacity for controlling groundwater pollution.


Congress amends the Clean Water Act to classify certain storm water discharges as regulated point sources, requiring permits to control pollutants in storm water.


Door County adds Animal Waste Storage Facility Ordinance to its code, now known as the Agricultural Performance Standards and Animals Waste Storage Ordinance.


The state legislature strengthens the Priority Watershed Program by requiring that “critical sites” of pollution be controlled.


A state Animal Waste Advisory Committee develops guidelines and prohibitions aimed at promoting environmentally sound manure management.

1997 and 1999

Wisconsin passes sweeping legislation to redesign its nonpoint source program to make it applicable statewide.


Wisconsin’s Natural Resources Board adopts a comprehensive rules package aimed at reducing polluted runoff from farms, urban areas, construction sites and other rural and urban sources.

July 2002

Sixty-eight swimmers fall ill from E. Coli after swimming at Nicolet Beach in Peninsula State Park, increasing awareness of the impact of surface inputs on water quality.


The livestock siting law is passed as Wisconsin Act 235. It leads to new, tighter standards for siting animal facilities, especially for operations housing more than 500 animals.


Wisconsin Act 310 passes, expanding Wisconsin’s authority to consider environmental impacts of high capacity wells.

February 2007

Final report of the Northeast Wisconsin Karst Task Force is issued, to criticism from industry and agriculture. Many of its recommendations are ignored.

June 2007

A norovirus outbreak that sickens 257 people is traced to the septic system at the Log Den restaurant, leading to new evaluations of septic systems throughout the county.


Wisconsin Act 227 calls for statewide registration of existing and new water withdrawals with the capacity to withdraw more than 100,000 gallons per day.

December 2008

The Great Lakes Compact is signed into law. The compact bans the diversion of Great Lakes water with a few strictly regulated exceptions.


A Group of citizens forms Kewaunee CARES to advocate for clean water in Kewaunee County, raising awareness of the impact of large-scale farming on groundwater quality.

March 2013

The Town of Gardner passes an ordinance that requires facilities that will have 500 or more animal units to apply for a license through the town.

January 2014

Number of dairy CAFOs in Wisconsin reaches four times the number in 2000.

September 2014

A manure spreading mishap contaminates wells in the Jacksonport area and the leaking of 640,000 gallons of manure from a storage facility at a Southern Door farm leads to an inquiry into nutrient management plans in Door County.


The Door County Soil and Water Dept. issues sample cropland rental agreements with conservation options for landowners who rent land to farmers, helping to give them more voice in how their land is used. The department tells farmers that nutrient management plans will be monitored more closely after it examines eight plans, and finds that all eight contain false reporting.

April 7, 2015

Kewaunee County voters unanimously pass the Public Health and Groundwater Ordinance, which bans spreading of manure on soil less than 20 feet to bedrock from Jan. 1 to April 15.