An aerial view of the Emerald Sky Dairy shows Wetland 1 outlined in red. (Wisconsin DNR)
The Emerald Sky Dairy in the Town of Emerald in St. Croix County reached a settlement with the Wisconsin Department of Justice last month for discharging manure into a creek in November 2019, the DOJ announced last week.
The settlement will require the dairy to pay $65,000 to resolve violations related to the manure discharge.
The state alleged that the dairy, which has a herd of more than 1,500 cows, improperly applied manure to an agricultural field which resulted in “ponding and movement of manure on the field.” A rainstorm occurred on November 20, 2019 causing the manure to run off the field into nearby Hutton Creek. An anonymous complaint to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) stated that there were several feet of manure in a roadside ditch during the rainstorm.
Allowing manure to pond on a field and applying so much manure it doesn’t remain in place are violations of DNR rules for water quality that concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) must follow under the permits they’re granted by the DNR.
The runoff of manure killed a number of forage fish in the creek, with DNR staff observing 24 dead fish immediately downstream of the ditch, the DOJ alleged. Tests of the water quality showed increased levels of ammonia, nitrate, phosphorus and E. coli.
“Polluting our water negatively impacts water quality and wildlife,” said Attorney General Josh Kaul. “CAFOs must ensure that manure runoff doesn’t unlawfully end up in Wisconsin waterways.”
The 2019 fish kill was not the first time the Emerald Sky Dairy has been cited for damaging the state’s water. In 2016, a pipe burst, causing 300,000 gallons of manure to spill into the surrounding wetlands and water system.
That spill, which occurred in December of 2016 but wasn’t disclosed until an anonymous tip to the DNR in March of 2017, led to an $80,000 settlement between the dairy and the DOJ.
The 2016 spill, which left upwards of three feet of solid manure in some nearby water sources, has caused ongoing concerns about local water quality for Emerald residents.
The Town of Emerald Hall is located about half a mile from the dairy. A public well at the town hall was found to have levels of nitrates — a contaminant often connected to large-scale manure spreading — four times the level considered safe by public health officials. The area’s groundwater is especially vulnerable because of the region’s specific geology, which is known as Karst geology and contains underground streams, caves and springs.
Local residents don’t believe the 2016 spill was ever completely cleaned up, though the DNR disputes those allegations.
“The issue has never gotten resolved. For them to just drop off this whole wetland and not even try to clean it up, I don’t understand the logic behind that,” Kim Dupre, a water quality advocate who used to live near the dairy, told the Wisconsin Examiner in May. “That was never explained.”
The Emerald Sky Dairy’s permit to operate as a CAFO is currently up for renewal. Local residents concerned by the dairy’s practices plan to object to its renewal. The DNR is waiting for an assessment of the local groundwater quality before moving ahead with that process, which requires a public comment period.
Tim Steiber, St. Croix County’s resource management administrator, previously told the Wisconsin Examiner that lots of farms spill manure occasionally, but typically operations with proper procedures don’t let the mistake happen more than once.
“If it’s a bad actor, they always spill another dump,” he says. “Good farmers don’t spill that often.”
The dairy, which is still making payments on its first manure spill settlement, is required to make its first payment of $17,000 on the new one within three months of the judgment.
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