Kewaunee County supervisors consider more Land & Water staff in wake of manure runoffs
LUXEMBURG – Several Kewaunee County Board supervisors plan to ask the county to fund at least one more employee for the Land & Water Conservation Department, and to use a portion of fees and fines already collected to pay for well water testing after manure spills and runoff incidents from farms.
These ideas were brought up during Tuesday's regular meeting of the Land & Water Committee, which saw citizens speak during the public comment time with concern, and some anger, not just about two manure runoff incidents from large dairy farms within the past month but also with the response from the conservation department and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
The committee also was told by Land & Water Conservation Department Director Davina Bonness that her department isn't authorized by the DNR to collect water samples or conduct water tests after manure events under current regulations, which committee member Lee Luft called "totally unsatisfactory."
The two manure events happened at Kinnard Farms in Casco on Aug. 7 and El-Na Farms in the Town of Lincoln last Friday. Both are concentrated animal feeding operations, or "CAFOs" for short. Kinnard has about 8,000 cows on its property while El-Na was granted a DNR permit two years ago to expand its herd to almost 6,000.
At Kinnard, a contractor spread manure over fields shortly before a storm dropped between 2 and 5 inches of rain on the area, causing runoff. Similarly, heavy rain caused recently-spread manure to run off from El-Na. The Kewaunee County Public Health Department issued a drinking water advisory to residents and businesses in the town of Lincoln after the El-Na runoff.
Residents spoke largely about the two manure incidents and their longstanding concerns with unsafe well water across the county, due to large amounts of manure produced at its many farms and the karst-type topography that features shallow soil depths before hitting bedrock.
Joe Musial held up a plastic bottle of water for all to see. The plastic was clear, but the water inside wasn't. It was dingy brown and opaque.
Musial, who lives next to El-Na and uses well water, said it was water he collected as it was running down a culvert last Friday, after a warning was issued that morning about its manure runoff. He told USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin he felt a little ill Friday.
Linda Cochart of Casco said contaminants were increasing in the well water used by a day-care center operated by her son and daughter-in-law.
"We can all speak here and complain, but these are 4-year-olds. … That day care is full of our future little helpers," Cochart said.
Dick Swanson of Algoma said he was called by a citizen to take pictures of the Sept. 6 runoff and saw manure-contaminated water running along like a heavy stream.
"We may have rules and regulations," Swanson said. "What we many not have is enough staff."
Sue Weisser of West Kewaunee said the responsible parties need to be held accountable for what she called "these brown water events" and offered a list of suggestions to the committee that included using fees to set up a fund for well testing following manure events.
"Our drinking water continues to be polluted by manure spills and manure runoffs," Weisser said. "The county has a duty to protect the health and welfare and safety of all its residents."
During the committee's discussions, Bonness said her department was "getting a lot of flak that we didn't respond fast enough" when the Kinnard incident was reported. She said she wasn't told about it until 7 p.m. that day, and by then a DNR warden was on the scene.
"When (the DNR) responds, we typically don't," Bonness said. "On (the morning after), Travis (Engels, the department's conservation specialist) was out there right away documenting everything that happened. … We did everything we needed to do with respect to Chapter 39 (the county's Agricultural Performance Standards Ordinance)."
Bonness said more staff would help her department respond more quickly and efficiently.
"We're only one person, and we're trying," she said. "The biggest issue you have with these spills is (that) you have to go now. Travis was out there all morning; I was here in the department (office)."
"I don't think it's satisfactory to say we can't do it because there's only one person," Luft said in reply. "This is crazy … to have you put on the spot because of these limitations are unsatisfactory. I think it's pretty plain at this point you need at least one other staff person."
Discussion turned to fines and animal waste storage fees collected from farms by the department. Bonness said she's looking toward grants to help with well testing in 2020-21 and beyond, but "ultimately, there's nothing we can do for them right now."
The animal waste fees currently go to the county's general fund, and committee member Gary Paape said he'd like to have their revenues used by Land & Water instead.
"I think it comes out of, let's fatten the general fund," Paape said. "I think these fees should come back to this department."
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After the meeting, Luft said he'd bring up the staffing issue at Wednesday morning's Executive Committee meeting, while Sup. Mary Ellen Dobbins, who isn't on the Land & Water Committee but was present at the meeting, said she would raise the idea of allocating some revenue from fines for well testing. Such changes would be part of the department's proposed budget, which is under construction.
"I think it's ridiculous we're so short-staffed that we have to constantly try to allocate people to do the work we need to do," Luft said.
Contact Christopher Clough at 920-741-7952, 920-562-8900 or [email protected]
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Kewaunee County supervisors consider more Land & Water staff in wake of manure runoffs