As reported by Up North News, a publication owned by Courier Newsroom, the quality of drinking water is declining in at least nine Wisconsin counties as a result of groundwater contamination from large farms.
Two environmental organizations, the Environmental Working Group and Midwest Environmental Advocates (MEA), have released a joint study revealing that large farms are operating on areas of land that are too small to safely handle the amount of animal waste generated.
This is resulting in elevated levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in the soil, which can lead to nitrate contamination of the groundwater.
“Risk of Serious Disease”
Drinking water contaminated with nitrates makes it harder for blood to carry oxygen throughout the body. This is especially dangerous to the most vulnerable among us. Nitrate contamination can cause blue baby syndrome, a condition affecting infants that can result in long-term health issues or even death.
According to a report by the Wisconsin Groundwater Coordinating Council, unsafe levels of nitrates “is one of the top drinking water contaminants in Wisconsin, posing an acute risk to infants and women who are pregnant, a possible risk to the developing fetus during very early stages of pregnancy, and a chronic risk of serious disease in adults.”
In the nine counties examined in the study, all were found to have nitrogen levels in the soil at maximum necessary levels or higher for growing crops. Many of these counties also have excessive levels of phosphorus in the soil.
The soil of one of the most affected counties, Kewaunee county, contains 164% of the needed phosphorus and 196% of nitrogen. Due to its fractured bedrock and shallow soils, there is an especially high risk of long-lasting groundwater contamination in Kewaunee, reports Courier Newsroom’s Up North News.
Kewaunee is home to the mega-farm Kennard Farms. Despite the already unsafe levels of fertilizer and manure being spread on the soil, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has given Kennard the go-ahead to double the size of its dairy herd.
Adam Voskuil, an author of the report, said in a press release, “…the DNR must consider the overwhelming amount of fertilizer and manure that is already being applied to fields in the area. More cows would lead to more pollution—there’s just nowhere for additional manure to be safely spread.”
About 100 miles west of Kewaunee in Portage County, the village of Nelsonville is already suffering from widespread groundwater contamination. Half of the community’s wells are now unusable due to contamination by nearby Gordondale Farms, a CAFO with 2,000 cows.
Environmental Protections Shelved
Courier Newsroom publication Up North News reports that the Wisconsin DNR developed new rules in 2019 to limit the amount of manure and fertilizer spread across the soil. These regulations would help prevent the contamination of Wisconsin’s drinking water as well as its groundwater, lakes, and rivers.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court also ruled that the state has the authority to limit the amount of livestock on dairy farms to protect the water supply.
However, the DNR’s rules were opposed by the GOP-led Wisconsin legislature, and as of November, they have been abandoned. The government is reluctant to take action to protect communities’ drinking water from contamination by mega-farms. In fact, the number of CAFOs is expected to increase even while CAFO oversight by the DNR is inadequate.
Environmentalists fear that with this growth, the quality of water in Wisconsin communities will continue to worsen.
This story was originally published in Up North News, a publication owned by Courier Newsroom.