DNR official: CAFO oversight still up in the air

posted Feb. 12, 2018 8:04 a.m. (CDT)
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by / Brooke Bechen, Regional Editor | brooke.bechen@ecpc.com

DODGEVILLE — Oversight of the state’s concentrated animal feeding operation program remains up in the air after Gov. Scott Walker announced he sought to transfer responsibilities of the program from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection late last year.

Meetings co-hosted by UW-Extension and the DNR were recently held statewide to provide permitted CAFO owners and managers, producers considering expansion, nutrient management plan writers and engineers with an update on current information regarding CAFO permitting and other requirements in the state.

“We don’t know exactly how this is going to happen,” said Mary Anne Lowndes, a representative of the DNR’s watershed runoff management section. “We’re still trying to understand all the moving parts, and there’s quite a bit of a process ahead of us.”

Lowndes reviewed four items that are currently being updated within Wisconsin’s CAFO program Feb. 8 at the annual CAFO Update in Dodgeville, which drew about 35 southwestern Wisconsin farmers.

The department is “paying more attention” to Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System regulation in the areas of vegetated treatment areas and calf hutch lots, as Wisconsin code is still “saying these areas are part of a ‘production area,’ ” which means any discharges from the production area to navigable waters must meet federal guidelines, as well as state guidelines.

While there were no farmers in attendance working under the Large Dairy CAFO General Permit, Lowndes said there are 17 CAFOs in Wisconsin that are — and they will continue to be able to work under that permit, even though it has expired. There remains a hold-up on the federal end in reference to the definition of “U.S waters” and the state’s definition of “navigable waters,” but “we’re trying to wrap it up,” Lowndes said.

Lastly, she touched on revisions made to NR151, and although it does not apply to most farmers in Wisconsin, she explained that any farmer may benefit from practices that are being enforced for CAFOs in Kewaunee County and other counties on the state’s northeastern side. NR151 is the DNR’s first targeted performance standard to be enforced and puts manure spreading restrictions on areas in a geographic area with Sulurian bedrock. The rule was created to minimize and reduce the amount of well contamination reported in northeastern Wisconsin.

Iowa County UW-Extension Agent Gene Schriefer said southwestern Wisconsin farmers often encounter fractured bedrock and karst, but no rules like NR151 have been enforced here — or anywhere else in Wisconsin.

“We’ll see how this goes and how it works,” Lowndes said. “The lack of information here doesn’t mean there isn’t well contamination in this part of the state.

“I wouldn’t say there’s no problem here either. We just don’t know the breadth of it.”

Aaron O’Rourke, DNR nutrient management specialist, provided an overview of the 2017 manure hauling audit and reviewed practices for manure distribution. The department conducts two types of audits during the year: a complaint spill/​runoff audit and compliance audits, he said. While the complaint audit is reactive and a higher priority, compliance audits are “more proactive” and typically result in few problems, he said. Compliance-driven audits are also good opportunities to educate and allow farmers to ask questions specific to their operations.

From March to November 2017, the department conducted 84 audits in 18 counties across the state. The highest number of audits conducted in one period of time was 20; the highest number of audits conducted in one day was seven. Some audits may only take a few minutes while others may take more than an hour, depending on the operation, O’Rourke said.

Of the 84 audits done in 2017, 23 were complaint-driven and four were in response to a spill. Thirty-seven were completed “announced,” while 20 were “unannounced,” meaning the operator had no prior knowledge of the audit being completed that day. Of the 37 announced audits, eight resulted in enforcement; of the 20 unannounced, three resulted in enforcement.

Nineteen of the 84 audits resulted in a notice of non-conformance, while four of the 84 audits resulted in a notice of violation. Nine out of 23 audits revealed issues with manure leaving the field boundary, while eight out of those nine audits had specific setback issues.

“These numbers are pretty low, in my opinion,” O’Rourke said.

Other topics discussed Feb. 8 included the roles and responsibilities of DNR staff, spill prevention and response plans, a review of how to submit forms and reports via Sharepoint and an overview of how to calculate the 180-day storage document required by CAFO operators. Claire Freix, DNR intake specialist; Tyler Dix, DNR agricultural specialist for southwest Wisconsin; and Gretchen Wheat, a water resources engineer, also presented for the DNR.

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