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By LeAnn R. Ralph
HUDSON — After outlining problems residents believe are associated with Emerald Sky Dairy, a Town of Emerald resident has asked the St. Croix County Board for a moratorium on Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs).
Emerald Sky Dairy has had five state Department of Natural Resources violations in the last four years, said Virginia Drath at the St. Croix County Board’s June 2 meeting during public comments.
Emerald Sky Dairy’s current Wisconsin Pollution Discharge Elimination System Permit (WPDES) expires June 30, and the dairy applied in January for a permit to double their operation, she said.
The expansion would bring Emerald Sky Dairy up to 4,620 animal units, or 3,300 milk cows, and with the expansion, Emerald Sky Dairy would generate 38.5 million gallons of liquid manure that would be dumped on fields in the Town of Emerald, Drath said.
A dairy cow is 1.4 animal units.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, DNR personnel say action on permit applications will be pushed back until later in the summer, she said.
The well at the Emerald Town Hall recently tested at 33 parts per million for nitrates and should be no more than 10 ppm, Drath said.
The Emerald Town Hall is located across the road from Emerald Sky Dairy on County Highway G.
Residents in the Town of Emerald who live on 170th Avenue had E. coli in their well water that sickened family members. The house and the well were brand new last summer, Drath said.
The homeowners spent $1,300 to install a UV system, which will require $200 per year in maintenance. The family also is still drinking bottled water because brown water is still coming out of the tap occasionally, she said, noting the family had sent a water sample to Stevens Point at a cost of $135 for testing.
Drath said she had a petition signed by 200 people asking the DNR to deny the expansion to Emerald Sky Dairy until all of the previous fines have been paid in full and until Emerald Sky Dairy has gone without further violations and citations for 60 months.
The renewal of the current WPDES permit should include monitoring wells around Emerald Sky Dairy and around the fields where the liquid manure is applied, Drath said.
The DNR also should require more frequent inspections and oversight based on prior violations, she said.
Drath said she was asking for a moratorium on all CAFOs in St. Croix County until water quality studies are completed in susceptible areas and until testing of wells has been completed.
As a “believer in transparency,” Drath said she was asking that last year’s water testing results be published in local newspapers.
The American Public Health Association recommends moratoriums on CAFOs until further environmental studies have been completed, she said.
Drath pointed out parts of St. Croix County, including the Town of Emerald, have karst topography, which is limestone with fissures and sinkholes that allow contaminants to easily infiltrate groundwater.
“My water faucets say ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ — not ‘Republican’ or ‘Democrat.’ Water quality should be everyone’s concern,” Drath said.
The St. Croix County Board’s Community Development Committee sent a letter to Jeff Jackson, CAFO specialist, at the DNR’s Baldwin Service Center dated February 20 concerning the permit re-authorization application for a WPDES permit for Emerald Sky Dairy and the DNR’s enforcement of violations or CAFO rules and statutes in St. Croix County.
The letter outlined five manure-related violations by Emerald Sky Dairy in the last three years:
• Official report to the DNR March 30, 2017 — spill occurred in early December of 2016. The official report related to large ESD manure release into wetlands from a leaking storage facility, which occurred in December of 2016, but the permit holder failed to report, despite work to repair the leak in December of 2016. An anonymous tip revealed the spill in March of 2017.
• February 22, 2017 — Field application of manure by ESD resulted in runoff into a road ditch.
• May 2, 2018 — A new waste storage facility was constructed on ESD property for manure management, but the storage was used prior to lining or inspection by county and state authorities.
• May 6, 2019 — Manure runoff into a road ditch near the home facility resulting from a hose connection break.
• November 21, 2019 — manure runoff from a field resulting in release into Hutton Creek and a fish kill. The operator failed to notice, and the spill was reported by an anonymous tip.
The letter goes on to say:
“In addition to these documented violations as (Community Development Committee) Board Chair, I have received much negative public comment related to Emerald Sky Dairy over the past three years. The Community Development Committee has received more public comment related to ESD than any other animal operation located in the county. Some public comments referred to contamination of domestic wells with E. coli that citizens believed was a result of an ESD manure spill and subsequent re-spreading of spilled manure onto fields at high rates.
“The documented violations and citizen concerns together are the reason this letter was prepared. Along with close scrutiny of the WPDES re-authorization application, CDC asks that additional measures and accountability be included in WPDES permit 00593315-04-0 if the DNR chooses to re-issue the permit to Emerald Sky Dairy.
“The CDC requests full and quick enforcement of manure application rules and statutes for CAFOs located in St. Croix County. According to the Wisconsin Land and Water Conservation Association, loss of nutrients from cropland and pastures is the largest source of non-point source nutrient pollution in surface and groundwater in Wisconsin. This is exacerbated when manure is allowed to spill, run off fields, or is applied at rates and timing that impact groundwater.
“The CDC understands that animal manure is a valuable resource that can benefit soil health and provide nutrients for crop growth. However, we are concerned with the repeated runoff events into wetlands and public waters.
“The fines and measures taken for past violations are appreciated, but they are not timely. The fines are levied years after the spills, and ESD was put on a payment plan. Further, the fines are not substantial enough to be punitive. The delayed timeframe before fines are imposed does not create a cause and effect impact and does not appear to have slowed down or stopped additional violations. The entire process has been frustrating to landowners and the CDC. The CDC requests more timely and effective enforcement of CAFO rules by DNR with regard to repeat offenders to deter future spills.
“We look forward to a written response from DNR on this matter or attendance at a future committee meeting.”
The letter is signed by Dan Hansen, chair of the community development committee; Ellen Denzer, community department director; and Tim Stieber, resource management administrator and county conservationist.