Sunday, February 5th, 2023
Sunday, February 5th, 2023

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State agencies tackle issue of manure runoff

By Judy Nugent Correspondent

Madison — The past 18 months saw 52 cases of manure runoff
resulting in fish kills and polluted drinking wells in Wisconsin,
creating a job for the new Manure Management Task Force assembled
by the DNR and the Department of Agriculture and Consumer

This 16-member task force was asked to examine the problem and
come up with recommendations. In December, the task force held
public hearings to allow residents to comment on their
recommendations. Initial feedback suggests a large division between
farmers, rural residents, and sportsmen that indicates the
magnitude of the problem and the large challenges the DNR and DATCP

In the draft recommendation, the task force suggests that DATCP
increase the implementation of nutrient management plans, that
farmers consider having winter spreading plans that identify
high-risk fields that shouldn’t receive manure, that DATCP consider
statewide licensing for manure haulers, and that they recommend
that farmers have emergency plans they can employ in the case of
acute runoffs. Other recommendations were for a statewide database
for monitoring manure “events,” improved education and data sharing
to alert farmers to dangerous spreading conditions, increase cost
sharing and funding for farmers, and compensation for private wells
contaminated by manure.

Those who attended the hearings generally fell into three
categories – farmers, conservationists, or rural residents.

Farmers, especially those from smaller, family run farms, argued
that the recommendations were too costly. With manure storage tanks
running in excess of $30,000 each – and larger ones over $100,000 –
they simply aren’t affordable.

In discussing the problem, Laurie Fischer, of the Wisconsin
Dairy Business Association, said, “There are caps and limits on the
existing cost-share provisions under EQUIP (a federal grant
program) that hinder farmers. Also, producers are under odor
regulations. Larger containment facilities will result in more odor
problems. Farmers can’t afford a $100,000 manure pit and then
$50,000 to $100,000 in additional costs to comply with odor
reduction regulations.”

Fischer said her group will wait until the final recommendations
are made before commenting.

Additional recommendations like designing plans, not spreading
on certain fields, experimenting with costly new technologies, and
increased training, are more palatable.

“We still don’t understand all the components that led to last
year’s problems,” Fisher said. “We need time to study each
producer’s slopes, investigate how close they are to waterways,
develop a warning system for when to spread, and address who will
be liable when an accident occurs. We also have to look at the new

Some farmers believe last year was simply a “perfect storm” and
resent the accusation that they are being irresponsible. In
Madison, Mike Wehler, representing the state’s pork producers,
asked why all the attention is on farm pollution when there is a
great deal of municipal pollution, like raw sewage, dumped into
Lake Michigan by the city of Milwaukee.

Those on the other side of the argument wonder if the state can
afford the status quo. Former DNR secretary and Wisconsin Wildlife
Federation executive director George Meyer wrote a letter in which
he spoke of his many years on his family farm outside New Holstein,
and the need for regulations governing large farms in excess of
1,000 animal units. Meyer said the state should make these
guidelines mandatory, not just suggested.

In the letter, Meyer requests “full funding to restore streams
and their fish and wildlife habitat that are damaged by manure
runoff pollution. This funding should not come out of license
dollars from hunters, anglers, and trappers.”

At the meetings held in Madison, crop consultant Eric Birschbach
disagreed, suggesting that extra charges be put on trout stamps or
duck stamps.

Rural residents also had concerns and many wanted to see
stricter rules. A few people who had been victims of contaminated
wells asked why they should have to pay for new wells. These
residents are calling for full compensation from the state when
wells are contaminated.

In many ways, the argument comes down to money. Manure
management is expensive. Bill Pielsticker, president of Wisconsin
Trout Unlimited, said in a letter to the task force, “Current law
requires cost-sharing for implementation of nutrient management
plans, waste storage facilities, and practices to reduce polluted
runoff. Everyone agrees there isn’t enough money to properly
implement these practices. Until our political leaders find the
backbone to properly fund these program.”

Pielsticker said an additional $7 to $14 million annually is not
enough when the funding must compete with other general revenue in
the state’s budget.

Meyer sees cost sharing as a loop hole.

“The real problem is the statutory provision that allows a
farmer to not have to implement manure pollution control unless
there is 70 percent cost-sharing provided to them to implement the
practice,” he said. “The theory behind this provision is logical –
without cost sharing many farmers would not be able to implement
the practices. But what started out as logical cost-sharing
provisions has been seriously abused. In fact what this provision
has become is a ‘pollution shield law’ for farmers’ bad management

The task force is now compiling all of the feedback from the
meetings and will send its final recommendations to the the DNR and
DATCP after Jan. 19.

A copy of the draft recommendations can be found at

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