Kewaunee County Board leaders provided some clarification Monday (Jan. 6) regarding a resolution that was introduced last month and then withdrawn before the board could vote, regarding state help for what had been described as a manure storage emergency.

Officials were faced with about a dozen manure-spreading incidents involving spills and runoff into waterways as farmers dealt with heavy rain mixed with requirements to have 180 days of manure storage available but not to spread on less than 20 feet of soil between Jan. 1 and April 15.

After the Dec. 10 Land & Water Committee meeting, county officials drafted a resolution asking the governor to take three specific emergency actions: Temporarily suspend the requirement that concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) collect all leachate to their manure pits, suspend the public hearing process so CAFOs could temporarily spread manure on land that is not currently under a nutrient management plan (NMP), and temporarily allow CAFOs to move manure into non-CAFO manure pits without going through the full Department of Natural Resources approval process.

The resolution was placed on the Dec. 17 County Board agenda over the signature of Supervisor Chuck Wagner, the Land & Water Committee chairman, but Wagner withdrew the measure a couple of days later, saying that more information was needed.

While the resolution never advanced to a vote, the committee received a scolding from local residents who said the resolution amounted to an attempt to roll back years of hard-fought regulations to protect groundwater in the county.

During the public comment session that begins every meeting of the committee, Pat Weisser of West Kewaunee urged the committee to raise fines on farmers and operators who violate the manure spreading ordinance.

“If you want someone’s immediate attention and compliance, hit them in the pocket book,” Weisser said. “Kewaunee County residents should not have to pay for cleanup of manure spills and runoffs that cause damage to their health, property or wells.”

“Declaring an emergency will not solve this crisis that we’ve allowed to happen,” said Mick Sagrillo, a member of the town of Lincoln Planning Committee. “The responsible thing to do is to curtail the amount of liquid manure that is being generated in the first place, not to find new places for ever-increasing numbers of cattle and ever-increasing quantities of liquid manure.”

“We the citizens of this county will no longer accept the poisoning of our land, water and air as an accident,” said Dick Swanson of Algoma. “Fix it.”

And Supervisor Cory Cochart, who also serves as Lincoln town chairman, said the rush to spread manure before the Jan. 1 deadline goes on every year in the town of Lincoln.

“I don’t see this as being any different from any other year. It’s the same unorganized mess every year,” Cochart said. “I just don’t see the emergency when I see it going on every year, the same thing.”

Wagner reiterated that the committee had no intention to bring the resolution forward, adding that the DNR did learn about the resolution and provided guidance and clarification of rules that have alleviated the problem.

County Conservationist Davina Bonness, whose overworked Land & Water Conservation Department responded with the state DNR to the various incidents, said her intention in bringing the matter to the committee’s attention was to protect the groundwater.

“My intent was never to loosen regulations … My intent was to protect those who have been testing their wells and know the contamination of their wells,” Bonness said. “That was my intent: to stop the manure from going out because we had multiple spills, I had staff working weekends and nights on spills, trying to clean up a lot of issues that we had in the last month. My intent was to stop the spreading; that was my intent.”

With spring less than 180 days away, the DNR is not holding CAFOs to the 180-day storage requirement, Bonness said. The purpose of the requirement is to have a place for manure that can’t be spread while the ground is frozen.

“That is going to punt it to spring,” she warned. “We’re going be back at this table with manure that needs to go out in spring, with over-topping manure pits, we’re going to have the same situation. I can’t make farms take their cattle and move them to another county or state, I don’t have that authority. So I apologize if I upset anyone, but I was trying to protect the groundwater.”

Supervisor Aaron Augustian, who owns Augustian Farms south of Kewaunee, said the DNR’s clarifications did reduce the amount of late spreading, and farmers now have time to add spreadable fields to their nutrient management plans as needed.

Wagner said back-to-back years of record precipitation exacerbated the problem, and Augustian added that when most of the manure pits were installed, the design standards were for an annual rainfall of 30 inches, which was the average rainfall at the time. It was greater than 40 inches in 2018 and 2019.

“We were looking for actions that could be taken to lessen problems with manure on the land,” Augustian said. “We weren’t out to change any regulations by any means, if that’s the way it came across.”

Photo: Dick Swanson of Algoma address the Kewaunee County Land & Water Committee during its Jan. 6 meeting.