The state Department of Natural Resources has reissued a Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (WPDES) permit for El-Na Farms LLC, a dairy and concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO), effective for five years effective Aug. 1.

El-Na Farms is a sixth-generation dairy farm owned by Barry, Lonnie, and Shane Fenendael at E4029 Pheasant Road in the town of Lincoln in northern Kewaunee County.

The permit covers a dairy site at E4029 Pheasant Road and a heifer site at E4082 County Road P and regulates discharges into an unnamed tributary of Rio Creek in the Ahnapee River Watershed, as well as groundwater.

As described in the notice of final determination to reissue the permit, “The farm consists of animal housing, milking facilities, manure storage, and feed storage. Currently, the farm has approximately 1,350 milking and dry cows, 850 heifers, and 500 calves equaling 2,675 animal units.

“Over the proposed permit term, the farm plans to expand through internal growth to approximately 5,970 animal units. Based on the current animal numbers, the farm generates approximately 16.5 million gallons of manure and process wastewater and 5,000 tons of solid manure annually.

“The farm is required to land-apply manure and process wastewater in accordance with a phosphorus-based nutrient management plan which includes approximately 4,982 acres. Currently, the farm has approximately 7.5 months of liquid manure storage. Over the proposed permit term, the farm anticipates constructing additional solid and liquid manure storage.”

Ten speakers provided oral comments at a June 27 public hearing about the application, and another 19 written comments were submitted. Most of the hearing comments raised questions about the impact on water quality of increasing the size of the El-Na herd by that scale, as well as recent studies that found a link between land-spreading of manure and well contamination, especially when the spreading occurs during rain and snow-melt season over shallow soil over karst bedrock.

A DNR response to questions that was released with the permit noted, “The Department does not claim that the requirements of a WPDES permit, including the requirement to develop and implement an NMP, will guarantee that water quality will not be impacted. However, the permit contains a number of requirements designed to protect groundwater. The permit also requires compliance with groundwater standards, including for land application areas.”

The response acknowledged public concerns about the increasing number of dairy animals in Kewaunee County but said, “Existing environmental issues in the area are not a basis for denial of the WPDES permit.”

The DNR’s authority with regard to WPDES permits is limited to issuing a permit that protects water quality should a CAFO decide to locate or expand in a given area, the response said.

“The Department does not claim that CAFO WPDES permits are ‘zero risk’ permits and the Department acknowledges that there have been impacts associated with CAFOs; some of those impacts have been significant,” the response said. “However, the Department believes that the WPDES permit program has been an effective means to address these impacts and avoid impacts from occurring in the future. As with any license or permit that is issued, there is always the potential for environmental impacts associated with permit noncompliance or situations not easily or explicitly addressed by prescriptive permit requirements.”

Here are links to the documents: