Kewaunee and Brown County officials asked the Legislature to consider additional funding to help local authorities deal with land and water conservation issues, during a public hearing Wednesday (Aug. 28) hosted by the Speaker’s Task Force on Water Quality.
“We need more funding to focus on NR 151,” Brown County Executive Troy Streckenbach said, referring to the administrative rule that was recently bolstered to tighten restrictions on manure spreading in areas with shallow soil and fragile karst topography, such as Door and northern Kewaunee counties. “We need dedicated staff to get out there and make sure those performance standards are met.”
The task force of state senators and Assembly representatives, with a mission “ to gather information and make policy recommendations to better assess and improve the quality of both surface water and ground water in our state,” held the hearing at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.
Kewaunee County Conservationist Davina Bonness said the past five years have seen a turnaround where groundwater contamination issues have been acknowledged and collaborative efforts have been made to start addressing them.
She reviewed studies of the Silurian dolomite aquifer under Kewaunee County that showed the percentage of contamination is highest in the areas that have the most shallow soils.
The county’s ban on manure spreading from January to mid-April, and the tougher standards passed at the state level through NR 151, have come as a result of those studies and buy-in from the agricultural community, Bonness said. The County Board also adopted the NR 151 standards as a local ordinance to give its staff enforcement authority.
The Land & Water Conservation Department works with farmers to help them draft nutrient management plans (NMPs) and apply for cost-sharing grants for projects that keep those nutrients and manure from reaching ground and surface water, she said.
But the challenges are bigger than her small staff can manage, Bonness conceded.
“We’re being thrown in so many different directions that we literally get what we can done and what we can’t gets pushed off, and that’s just the realistic ability of what we have to do,” Bonness said.
A lot of the credit should go to the Best Management Practices Work Group, which studied the issue under the auspices of the county Groundwater Task Force and the state Department of Natural Resources. The group’s research and discussion led directly to implementation of the new standards.
Bonness said it was important to have farmers at the table to ensure their voices were heard, because their buy-in was necessary for the more stringent standards to be implemented effectively.
“We had Big Ag, we had Small Ag, we had dairy business, we had EPA, we had petitioning organizations, we had county, we had citizens who couldn’t drink their water. We brought everyone together, and that’s where the recommendations came from,” she said. “They drink the water, their animals drink their water, their grandchildren drink the water, so the farms want clean water as much as anyone else does.”
Supervisor Lee Luft, who chaired the county task force, said the water issues in Kewaunee County didn’t happen by chance. He said the DNR approved new and expanded concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) even in the most vulnerable areas of the county despite citizens who implored the agency not to do so.
“Now the time has come for our state’s elected and appointed officials to address the unfortunate outcome of these and other policies, Luft said.
He said state agencies and the farm community need to work together “to develop new models for farm management that will meet the needs of our farmers while preserving our environment.”
The local officials asked the state task force to consider:
+ supporting “full funding” of staffing grants that the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection administers to pay for county conservation staff;
+ increasing state funding for conservation projects to allow more cost-sharing with farmers;
+ increasing groundwater monitoring and testing programs;
+ expanding assistance to landowners who are affected by groundwater contamination; and
+ helping to implement all of the DNR-Kewaunee County work group recommendations.
Photo: Kewaunee County Supervisor Lee Luft, left, and Conservationist Davina Bonness address the Speaker’s Task Force on Water Quality during a hearing at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay on Aug. 28.