Major dairy farm now required to monitor groundwater quality

By: - March 31, 2022 6:45 am
Farmers milking cows on dairy farms

CAMBRIDGE, WI – APRIL 25: Tina Hinchley milks cows on the family farm she shares with her husband Duane on April 25, 2017 near Cambridge, Wisconsin. President Donald Trump today tweeted “Canada has made business for our dairy farmers in Wisconsin and other border states very difficult. We will not stand for this.” (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

A Kewaunee County dairy farm with nearly 8,000  cows must now conduct groundwater monitoring on farm fields, according to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The DNR announced the requirement Monday, two days after the department  modified a Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit for the operation, Kinnard Farms. The permit expires in January 2023.

Environmental groups praised the DNR’s action, the first time the agency  has used permitting authority to require a large-scale dairy operation to monitor groundwater pollution around farms. “People who live around Kinnard Farms and other large-scale animal operations rely on groundwater for their drinking water,” said Scott Laeser, program director at Clean Wisconsin. “We have to better understand how much manure pollution is coming off of those farm fields and endangering the drinking water supply.”

In February, Midwest Environmental Advocates and the Environmental Working Group released a report that found animal waste was over-applied to farmland in nine Wisconsin counties. The report concluded that Wisconsin literally does not have enough land for all the manure.

Applying animal waste to farmland is linked to nitrate contamination, Wisconsin’s most common groundwater contaminant. An analysis done by the two organizations also found that direct medical costs for nitrate contaminated drinking water ranged from $23 million to 80 million per year in Wisconsin.

Kinnard Farms was part of a lawsuit that Clean Wisconsin filed arguing that the DNR could require water monitoring in the factory farm permitting process. In July 2021 the Wisconsin Supreme Court issued a ruling that upheld the environmental group’s position.

“As the Supreme Court made clear, DNR can require monitoring for potential polluted runoff from farm fields as part of its permitting process, and they have proposed a sensible plan to do so,” said Laeser. “It’s a critical first step to addressing groundwater contamination.” Because of the ruling, “this farm and many others around Wisconsin are already taking some steps to protect groundwater resources from pollution,” Laeser said. “Effective groundwater monitoring can help us identify potential problems or practices that lead to contamination and also validate whether the important conversation efforts that are already underway are making an impact.”

Kinnard Farms had 7,950 milking and dry cows as of October 2021, according to the DNR. The new permit modifications include additional language on how fields are selected for manure application along with  schedules and limits for sampling groundwater for contamination. It also requires the farm to submit a phased plan for the DNR to review and approve.

 A 12-page fact sheet on the DNR’s website states: “Kinnard Farms anticipates generating 103,038,952 gallons of manure and processed wastewater and 2,045 tons of solid waste in 2022.” The farm has over 16,000 acres in its nutrient management plan, according to the department.


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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.