Audience members listen to discussion at Tuesday’s Kewaunee County Land and Water Conservation Committee meeting.

By Warren Bluhm

With a public hearing set Friday on new rules regulating manure spreading over shallow Kewaunee and Door County soil, a group representing dairy farmers is already questioning whether the stringent proposed standards are too stringent.

An informational meeting and Q&A is scheduled to start at noon, followed by the public hearing will start at 1 p.m. The hearing will be held at the University Union Phoenix Room (Rooms A, B and C), at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, 2420 Nicolet Drive, Green Bay.

The rules package proposes standards that will apply to manure spreading and other agricultural practices in Silurian bedrock areas, which in Wisconsin exists most prominently under Door and Kewaunee counties.

The rules are most stringent when soil depth is 0-2 feet over bedrock, which is the case in parts of northern Kewaunee County and Door County, Boness said.

Concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) will be required to comply with the standards through their pollution discharge permits that are renewed every five years, the analysis says. Farms that do not require such permits but operate in Silurian bedrock areas will also be required to follow the standards in areas of shallow (0-20 feet) surface-to-bedrock depths.

The results of a study of Kewaunee County wells conducted by the USDA, USGS and other agencies recently showed a relationship between well contamination and soil depth, with pollution levels that were especially high in areas with 5 feet or less of soil over bedrock, and to only a slightly lesser extent when the depth to bedrock was 5-20 feet.

The Dairy Business Association says it agrees with the need for added manure regulations in shallow soils.

“Given the well-documented groundwater quality issues, it makes sense to take targeted steps to further protect the environment and people’s health,” said Mike North, president of the Dairy Business Association, in a news release Wednesday. “Protecting water quality is a community effort and the agricultural community accepts its role. We all want clean water.”

But the DBA wants to define “shallow” as 5 feet or less.

“Verifying soil depth beyond a few feet rapidly becomes an expensive and cumbersome process,” said Mike North, DBA president, in a news release Wednesday.

North added that because of broad exemptions from existing NR 151 rules, most of the cows in the sensitive area are on smaller farms that would not be covered by the changes.

“This is not just a large-farm issue,” he said. “For meaningful water quality progress to be had, we need to move everyone toward compliance.”

County officials and residents expressed concern about possible efforts to water down the new rules, during Tuesday’s Land and Water Conservation Committee meeting.

The committee passed a resolution supporting the rules as drafted, including limits on spreading over up to 20 feet of soil. County Conservationist Davina Bonness encouraged committee members to attend the hearing and submit comments.

“This is our greatest step for groundwater quality in NR 151 law,” Bonness said. “It’s a huge step that they did this.”

During the public comment period of Tuesday’s meeting, Jodi Parins of the town of Lincoln, who served on the workgroups that helped develop the rules, said people who supported more stringent standards compromised, thinking something is better than nothing and these rules are a good start.

“Now these go-easy concessions that we agreed to as a starting point for voluntary recommendations are being flouted as the end point, and that is wrong,” Parins said. “Do not be deceived by the sound bites coming from Madison or from the Dairy Business Association … Understand that these proposed regulations are not sufficient to improve our groundwater quality.”