Two Kewaunee County committees got an earful from the public Thursday, then spent three hours tweaking and finally passing an ordinance to regulate agricultural waste and process wastewater irrigation.
The measure to be considered for final approval by the full County Board on Tuesday sets the conditions under which liquid manure can be spread on farm fields over the county’s fragile karst bedrock.
Introduced in May, the ordinance was approved in a first reading at the September County Board meeting, only to be turned back to committee in October just before it could receive a second reading and final approval, after farm interests raised concerns the measure needed more revisions.
The committees held firm on perhaps the biggest bone of contention with farmers – a requirement that liquid manure be dispersed in droplets from nozzles that are no higher than an average 18 inches off the ground.
Don Niles, co-owner of the Dairy Dreams farm and president of the Peninsula Pride Farms coalition, said the 18-inches mandate could damage equipment as it rolls over uneven ground and could result in inefficient dispersal.
He said a New Zealand study showed that wind speed and droplet size were more important factors in preventing drift than the height of the boom.
Niles said these systems are not high-pressure sprays and compared the dispersal to the pressure in a home shower head.
“We’re talking about dropping it from about five feet above the ground,” he said. “So if you think of your shower at home, and the droplets that are coming out, and being five feet above the ground which is lower than my shower head, you’re not going to get much drift, even with a 10 mph wind.”
Nancy Utesch, a small farmer and member of the environmental group Kewaunee CARES, said she found it hard to believe that rational people were talking about spraying bovine waste into the air, adding that she and quite a few others were in favor of an outright ban on the practice.
“The compromise was brought to the board and read in September. That was the compromise,” she said. “There’s many of us here that want the ban. We made the compromise. This industry is never satisfied; it’s all or nothing.”
Many of the changes the committees made during their deliberation were minor. A requirement that an irrigation manure distribution system (IMDS) permit list the “legal description and address of the property upon which the system is to be operated” was revised to allow other identifying descriptive information, because many farm fields have no address, for example.
But the proverbial line in the sand was drawn over the 18-inch height mandate, which drafters of the ordinance said was based on the NRCS standard for low-pressure systems in the western United States.
Supervisor Lee Luft said he did not want to change that standard in a community already sensitized to groundwater issues and now concerned about possible air pollution.
“If you want the public to buy into this, I would leave it alone,” Luft said, “and if technology comes about that can make this safe at a higher height or utilize other forms of technology … we can look at it again. But I would start with this, get this experience moving forward; if it’s all working great, we can modify it.”
As the meeting that began at 9 a.m. reached its conclusion just before 1:30 p.m., the two committees held separate, unanimous votes recommending approval of the final draft when the County Board meets Tuesday.
The meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. Tuesday in the County Board room of the County Administration Center, 810 Lincoln St., Kewaunee.