Oconto County manure spill released 790,000 gallons of waste

    Wisconsin dairy cows in large animal feeding operation
    Wisconsin dairy CAFO (Photo courtesy of Wisconsin DNR)

    In July, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) responded to a manure spill near the village of Pulaski, in Oconto County. At the time, it was known that the spill entered the Little Suamico River, though exactly how much contamination entered the waterway remained  to be determined. Brian Hanson, a DNR agricultural runoff specialist, recently informed Wisconsin Examiner that some 790,000 gallons of waste was released during the spill.

    “The farm collected over 200,000 gallons of contaminated runoff from the river in addition to any remaining runoff still pounded in the field,” explained Hanson. “DNR staff did document that there was a fish kill in the Little Suamico River as well as an impact to water quality in the river during the week of July 12,2020.” Reports are still being finalized by DNR staff as to the full scale of the ecological damage caused by the spill.

    Hanson noted that the 790,000 gallons of waste released over land, “calculates to about 6,000 gallons per acre. Due to the timing of the application, rain event and when we were notified of the spill, the department was not able to accurately calculate how many gallons of manure or contaminated runoff left the field and ended up in the river.”

    Manure spills are a recurring problem for agricultural states like Wisconsin. In October, a spill in Marathon County released over 40,000 gallons of liquid waste. It flowed overland and entered Elm Creek, which is near other waterways. No fish kills were reported during that event, though oxygen levels were lower in the water. In 2017, 20,000 gallons of waste entered the Fox River. In yet another incident, waste which entered the Kickapoo River killed more than 1,300 fish.

    Typically the parties responsible for these spills are cited for  violations and ordered to pay fines. Hanson confirmed  that  Little Suamico River in Shawano & Oconto counties was affected,  And said, “The outcomes for the responsible party have yet to be determined as the case is still pending, but any enforcement actions taken will follow department protocol and will be consistent with other similar violations of a farm’s [permits].”

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    Isiah Holmes
    Isiah Holmes is a journalist and videographer, and a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Holmes' video work dates back to his high school days at Wauwatosa East High, when he made a documentary about the local police department. Since then, his writing has been featured in Urban Milwaukee, Isthmus, Milwaukee Stories, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Services, Pontiac Tribune, and other outlets.