Emerald approves continued testing of nitrate-contaminated town hall well

By LeAnn R. Ralph

TOWN OF EMERALD —  The Emerald Town Board has approved continued periodic testing for nitrate contamination of the town hall’s well.

The first test of the Emerald town hall’s well came back with nitrates at 26.8 parts-per-million, reported Henry Hurtgen, town chair, at the Emerald Town Board’s March 8 meeting.

A nitrate level of 3 ppm is believed to be a naturally-occurring level and safe to drink. The United States Environmental Protection Agency has set a standard of 10 ppm for drinking water, and levels above 10 ppm can be harmful to both people and animals.

Infants and pregnant women are particularly susceptible to health problems from nitrate levels above 10 ppm.

Nitrates can interfere with the blood’s ability to carry oxygen, and babies that are six months old or less are especially vulnerable and can end up with methemoglobinemia, also known as “blue baby syndrome.” 

Some research also seems to indicate that high nitrate levels can result in “spontaneous miscarriages.”

A second test of the Emerald Town Hall’s well came back with nitrates at 19.1 ppm, Hurtgen said.

Sources for nitrates in water can be fertilizer, concentrated animal feed lots (CAFOs), septic systems and wastewater treatment lagoons.

A reverse osmosis system will eliminate nitrate contamination, said Don Prinsen, town treasurer.

The two water samples showing high nitrates were both analyzed at the Commercial Testing Lab in Colfax, and perhaps it may be wise to also send another sample to a different laboratory in subsequent testing, he said.

When the second sample was taken, the town hall’s well had been running for a half a day, but prior to the first sample, the water had not been running, said Tom Wink, town supervisor.

The nitrate level was 6.9 ppm when the well was drilled about ten years ago, said Barbara Prinsen, town clerk.

The town hall’s well is 240 feet deep. 

The state hydrologist also is recommending testing for chloride, which indicate the presence of commercial fertilizer, if fertilizer is the cause for the high nitrates, she said.

Hurtgen suggested that the town board should approve continued testing of the water for nitrates and to also have the chloride level tested.

The well does not get used enough, said Fran Klatt, town supervisor.

Klatt was unable to attend the March 8 meeting in person but did sit in on the meeting via speaker phone. 

The Emerald Town Board unanimously approved a motion to continue periodic testing of the town hall’s well and to conduct the next test in April. The April sample will be sent to Commercial Testing and also will be submitted to another lab.

Town board members agreed that reverse osmosis should be on the agenda for the Town of Emerald’s April meeting.

Emerald Sky Dairy

Emerald Sky Dairy, located in the Town of Emerald, is proposing to expand the operation. The new owner of Emerald Sky Dairy, Todd Tuls, has requested a conditional use permit to increase the number of animal units to 8,804.

A dairy cow represents 1.4 animal units, so the proposed expansion would translate into 6,289 cows.

Before Emerald Sky Dairy could expand, the facility would need a conditional use permit from St. Croix County.

According to Ellen Denzer of the St. Croix County Community Development Department, the facility’s current conditional use permit allows up to 3,400 dairy cows, or 4,760 animal units, and the existing operation has 2,460 animal units, or 1,757 dairy cows.

Emerald Sky Dairy first submitted an application to St. Croix County for the proposed expansion last summer. 

St. Croix County Community Development Department subsequently returned the application to Emerald Sky Dairy and asked for more information.

The Emerald Town Board has kept the Emerald Sky Dairy conditional use permit as an agenda item since then for updates to the town board along with possible discussion and a recommendation to St. Croix County.

At the March 8 meeting, Barb Prinsen reported that she has not received any additional information about the proposed expansion.

Study group

The St. Croix County Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution to create a special study group at the board’s December 6 meeting to address nutrient pollution of St. Croix County’s water resources from large livestock facilities and other resources.

According to the resolution, St. Croix County’s comprehensive land use plan dated November 5, 2012, includes objectives related to clean water, such as encouraging the conservation of ground water and surface water quality and quantity; encouraging and promoting farm and forestry operations to follow best management practices and maintain strong stewardship principles; maintaining and strengthening a farm operator’s right to farm using accepted practices that do not threaten public health or safety; protecting, enhancing and restoring ground water and surface water quality and quantity to supply clean drinking water, preserve ecological functions and provide recreational activities; and preventing the spread of pathogens, parasites and other contaminants that cause risk to human or animal health.

The resolution includes the provision that the groundwater study group will report back to the St. Croix County Board within six months, and if necessary, the county board may grant an additional 90 days to complete the study.

The scope of the study is to provide a record of the science-based analyses and monitoring of nutrient pollution levels and trends in St. Croix County from agricultural livestock waste practices, crop practices, erosion and stormwater runoff and home and other fertilizer uses.