Kewaunee County farmers already are taking action on steps outlined in a state Department of Natural Resource report released this week focusing on groundwater quality in this northeastern Wisconsin county.
The Groundwater Collaboration Task Force, made up of local residents, farmers, environmental groups and public officials, was created in August after environmental groups and residents filed petitions with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the Safe Water Drinking Act.
The 63-page report calls for changes in farming practices and more oversight from the DNR and county.
Task force member Don Niles, the owner of Dairy Dreams in Casco, which milks about 2,800 cows, said the recommendations provide “a workable plan.”
“The report has created a road map. The report goes beyond black and white and presents a lot of practical ideas,” Niles said. “It’s also size neutral – it has good practices that large and small farms can follow.”
Other recommendations focus on the county and local groups supplying clean drinking water to those who need it, increase the number of private wells tested and fixing bad wells.
The focus on the county’s groundwater started after some residents reported well contamination. In December, 34 percent of wells tested in the county were labeled unsafe because they failed to meet health standards for drinking water, according to a study by the U.S. Agriculture Research Service and the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. Researchers were unable to determine if the contamination came from animal waste or waste from leaky, aging septic systems that made its way through the fractured karst bedrock into the groundwater below.
Niles said farmers are eager to be a part of the solution to the water problems. Earlier this year, he helped start Peninsula Pride Farms, an environmental stewardship organization made up of Kewaunee County farmers.
“Peninsula Pride has been well accepted by farmers because they were looking for a voice in the solution and coming up with ideas,” Niles said. “The Kewaunee community is supportive as well since they were looking for farmers to play a role.”
At the group’s first work day this spring, the focus was showing farmers how to measure soil depth.
“As part of the task force, I heard some of these ideas – like the importance of soil depth above the bedrock if you plan to spread – and wanted to share those ideas with other farmers,” Niles said.
Overall, the task force came up with more than 40 recommendations from four workgroups: short-term solutions, compliance, best practices/sensitive areas and communications. The report also outlined who is responsible for some of the recommendations, whether it’s the county, DNR, state Legislature, residents or farmers.
Some recommendations include requiring all farms that spread manure have a nutrient management plan (currently only CAFOs are required to have such a plan), asking the state to increase its staffing levels to better enforce current environmental rules and coming up ways to help residents with contaminated wells.
“Task force members didn’t always agree, but we worked together to produce a road map to take on this issue,” Niles said.