Private Regulation of WI Farm Operations Ill-advised

At a time when the number of  factory farms has risen precipitously, cutting regulatory staff tasked to ensure these operations remain compliant with regulations is a curious, questionable move.  But, in WI, this is precisely the what is happening.

According to a recent article in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, pressure to reduce budgets has resulted in a 18% reduction in staff at the WI Department of Natural Resources, since 1995. This, while the number of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) permits in WI has more than doubled in the past decade.

cafograph_lg-2Even more troubling? Fines for pollution in WI hit a 30-year low in 2015.

Several counties in WI are struggling with — perhaps suffering under is a more appropriate description — massive increases in dairy cows in their region, and the incredibly large amounts of manure these herds create. Kewaunee County, as has been mentioned numerous times in prior blogs here, is perhaps the best current example.

While nobody argues the value of manure as a valuable source of fertilizer for farm operations, it is also clear that manure is a primary contributor to non-point pollution which results in devastating algae blooms as seen annually in Lake Erie, Lake Okeechobee, and many other rivers, streams and lakes across the USA.

Wisconsin lawmakers suggest that cooperative regulation will make the process more efficient, less costly, and will result in better practices resulting in decreased pollution, etc.

Perhaps.

But just as likely, if not even more so, is that environmental costs in the form of contaminated ground water, surface water dead zones, algae blooms, and the inherent health risks within area communities, will far outweigh whatever meager savings and questionable efficiencies are attained.

Resources like CWAC, CWA, can only help the HAB cause.

I recently joined a terrific organization, Clean Water Action Council (CWAC) of Northeast WI, which provides superb content for anyone interested in clean water in Wisconsin – in all its forms. Ground, surface, non-point (runoff from communities and agriculture, etc.), and more. For 31 years, CWAC has been working to support legislature, and calling attention to issues that have an impact on clean water in and around Green Bay, WI, including the Fox River Valley, Kewaunee County, and Door County.

CAFO operation - Kewaunee County, WI
CAFO operation – Kewaunee County, WI

Since this area of the Midwest is one that is deeply – and seemingly negatively –  impacted by a wild increase in Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), CWAC is a great example of a local group making a difference, and they are not alone.

Indeed, on its site CWAC offers information links and tools that can even extend beyond its target area. An example:

Who are your local water polluters?

Two national websites provide detailed data about pollution sources in local communities. Just type in your zip code and you may find more than you really wanted to know!

The Scorecard, by Environmental Defense http://www.scorecard.org/

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency http://iaspub.epa.gov/triexplorer/tri_release.chemical

For more information: http://dnr.wi.gov/wnrmag/html/stories/2003/feb03/pbde.htm

On a national level, Clean Water Action (CWA) works to promote clean water and a healthy environment, via its network of state organizations.

What does it all mean? Good news — and terrific resources —  for any interested in becoming involved with, or educated about, clean water initiatives.

HAB Activity? Follow The Herd ….

I got curious today, after considering poor Toledo, Ohio’s ongoing battle with Harmful Algae Blooms (HABs) in its Western Lake Erie drinking water source. And so, I posed a question: In OH, and WI, where are the preponderance of HABs? And, accordingly, where is the heaviest dairy production?

At the risk of making you, the reader, dig deep to find the information I gathered, I am going to here and now provide you with links to my reference articles:

Western Lake Erie Algae Bloom Projections

2007 State of OH Concentration of accepted Dairy Farm Permits (>700 cows)

Milk Production By County, Wisconsin, 2014

Toxic Algae Blooms On The Rise

And now, the unsurprising results from this search: wherever HABs are most impactful on a large scale (see: Toledo; see: The Green Bay of Lake MI), the largest presence of dairy cows and

UW-Milwaukee Students Sample Green Bay Waters
UW-Milwaukee Students Sample Green Bay Waters

milk production are either already dominant within the state (WI) — or are trending heavily in that direction (OH).

If best-practice standards for farmers remain marginally regulated, and farm operation regulations pale in comparison to what is required from municipalities, HABs will become an increasingly regular event with corresponding intensity.

In other words … this crappy situation is only going to get worse.

 

Kewaunee County, WI – A Crappy Situation.

In the discussion of Harmful Algae Blooms (HAB), there is perhaps no better location to reference than Kewaunee County, WI. As has been discussed in a previous CWW article, dairy farming is big business for this county with a population of about 21,000 people.

Really big business.

So much so that dairy cows outnumber the human population almost 4 to 1. That’s right. Nearly 80,000 dairy cattle, in one small WI county … with a vast Lake Michigan shoreline.

Now, if you are thinking that’s alot of cows, you are correct. And it has created a poopy situation which, despite the play on words, is actually incredibly serious.

As of 2016, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, fully one-third of all Kewaunee County wells are contaminated.

One-third.

In this terrific 2015 study conducted by The Socially Responsible Agricultural Project, mounds of empirical evidence supports the need for a better way of managing dairy cow manure. The well contamination is noted — in fact, this study proposed that it is one-half of the wells in the county that are contaminated — as well as the geological makeup of Kewaunee County; the rampant growth of dairy operations, and more.

All of it is useful information. But, for me, the most glaring number is this:

One cow generates at least 18 times the amount of waste as one human. Every day. 24/365.

Animal Manure On The Farm
Animal Manure On The Farm

And, while municipalities go to great lengths to control street runoff, waste from homes, etc., dairy farms have far less regulation and must meet far lower waste-management standards.

Imagine what the sanitation treatment landscape would look like if Kewaunee County held 360,000 people — making it the fourth most populated of Wisconsin’s 72 counties, instead of its current ranking of #52.

Do you see where this is going?

In the race to provide dairy products to a planet full of people, we are clearly trading freshwater for milk. Since it has been estimated that it takes some 40 gallons of fresh water to produce an 8 ounce glass of milk, that is an alarmingly one-sided deal.

One might even call it a waste.