Several citizen groups have challenged the recent settlement of the Dairy Business Association v. Department of Natural Resources lawsuit.

In a news release, the groups say the settlement reached Oct. 18 limits the state agency’s ability to protect public health and clean water without the ability or opportunity for the public to intervene and defend the public interest.

Midwest Environmental Advocates represented the Clean Water Action Council, Milwaukee Riverkeeper and the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation as proposed intervenors in the DBA v. DNR lawsuit. Friends of Central Sands also sought to intervene and are now clients in this challenge.

However, DBA and DNR settled the lawsuit before the intervenors had a chance to become involved in the case. To challenge the settlement, the groups filed a petition for judicial review and declaratory judgment action in Milwaukee County Circuit Court.

Groups said they moved to intervene in the DBA v. DNR lawsuit because the suit challenged the authority of the DNR to require concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) to apply for and obtain water pollution permits.

The DBA lawsuit alleged the DNR does not have the legal authority to require concentrated animal feeding operations to obtain a wastewater discharge permit unless the CAFO actually discharges wastewater into navigable waters.

The DBA dropped that allegation, while the DNR agreed that vegetation patches are valid pollution control-systems and to stop regulating calf hutches.

The agreement says the state agency will enforce only those standards and requirements for feed storage leachate or runoff management that are explicitly permitted by Wisconsin law, and not to consider calf hutch lots to be included in the definition of a “reviewable facility or system,” which requires an independent engineering plan and specification review and approval.

“Groups remain concerned with how the settlement takes away the DNR’s authority to use science-based decision making in regulating contaminated runoff that comes from calf hutch areas and feed storage runoff,” said the release.

“It’s been the EPA’s position that the practices at the heart of this debate, including vegetated treatment areas and calf hutches, do produce contaminated runoff,” said Sarah Geers. “Most states have embraced better pollution controls, but this settlement makes it more difficult for the DNR to apply sound science to EPA-documented, known sources of pollution in our ground and surface waters. It’s another step in Wisconsin’s race to the bottom of stripping our state government’s ability to protect our water.”

“The level of influence of special interests over the basic functioning of DNR is threatening public health and our natural resources,” said George Meyer, executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation and former DNR secretary. “I’ve seen a lot over the years, but this situation is extreme in circumventing the agency’s clear authority to protect our public waters.”