DNR taking public comment for Portage County CAFO permit

By: - April 28, 2022 5:30 am
Wisconsin dairy cows in large animal feeding operation

Wisconsin dairy CAFO (Photo courtesy of Wisconsin DNR)

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is seeking public comments on a proposal to modify a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) permit for Gordondale Farms. Located in Portage County about a mile from the Village of Nelsonville, the farm’s permit runs until July 31, 2025.

The DNR is re-examining the permit following a Supreme Court decision in July of this year. In the case Clean Wisconsin, Inc. vs. DNR, the Supreme Court ruled that the DNR has the authority to include in a CAFO permit certain requirements related to water quality standards. Nitrate, 90% of which comes from agricultural sources, is Wisconsin’s most common groundwater contaminant, and agricultural manure and fertilizer are major sources.

In 2018, the Department of Health Services tested 60 wells in the village of Nelsonville. Of those, 28 tested positive for nitrate levels exceeding d state and federal standards. The DNR noted in a press release that Gordondale has “demonstrated they have adequate manure storage capacity for the number of animals at a facility and adequate land base to manage manure and process wastewater.” It added that Gordondale Farms’ operations have met “nutrient management plan requirements” established by the DNR; the Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP), and the Wisconsin Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

No cap for the number of animal units located on the farm is included in the draft permit. The DNR states that groundwater monitoring of areas where manure is spread is “practical and warranted,” and added in a press release that “based on the initial data obtained from the monitoring wells, the department will determine appropriate response actions, including actions to reduce contaminants in groundwater below the public health standard.”

According to a report by the Environmental Working Group and Midwest Environmental Advocates, Portage was among nine counties that overapplied manure beyond recommended levels. In Portage County, that translated to 8,000 tons of manure overload, the report found. As the DNR gathers public comment regarding the Gordondale Farms CAFO permit, a different CAFO is suing the DNR to challenge its permit authority.


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Isiah Holmes
Isiah Holmes

Isiah Holmes is a journalist and videographer, and a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His writing has been featured in Urban Milwaukee, Isthmus, Milwaukee Stories, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Services, Pontiac Tribune, the Progressive Magazine, Al Jazeera, and other outlets.