DNR Board Approves Watered-Down Plan to Protect Drinking Water from Manure

August 4, 2016

Water Bubbler

The state’s Natural Resources Board approved scaled-back rule-making plans Wednesday to protect drinking water from farm manure after objections to potentially tougher rules by the state’s agriculture industry.

Members of the seven-member board, who are appointed by the governor and Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Secretary Cathy Stepp, characterized the scaled-back rules as a step forward to address well contamination and groundwater pollution problems in numerous parts of the state.

One board member, Fred Prehn, told the audience to be optimistic, and another, Gregory Kazmierski, called some of the speakers “anti-business and anti-growth” for criticizing the narrower rule-making plan.

The board members and Stepp made their comments after the board’s decision and public hearing where they heard speakers from around the state describe problems with manure pollution. Some of the speakers urged the board to take up the DNR’s original rule-making proposal sent to Republican Gov. Scott Walker for his approval on June 15.

After getting the DNR’s proposed rule-making plan in mid-June, Walker’s office notified farm industry lobbyists about the plan, and then the state Dairy Business Association (DBA) met with DNR officials and complained about the potential cost of the future rules. The DNR then decided to narrow the rule-making plan, which Walker then approved, and this watered-down plan was presented to the Natural Resources Board.

Instead of stronger statewide regulation of manure at large factory farms, formally known as concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, any new rules will apply only in yet-to-be-defined sensitive areas where groundwater is especially vulnerable to manure pollution, like Kewaunee County. Plans to regulate the aerial spraying of manure were also removed.

The agriculture industry alone is a large campaign contributor to legislative and statewide candidates. Between January 2010 and December 2015, the agriculture industry contributed more than $3.8 million to legislative and statewide candidates, including $1.9 million to Walker.

The DBA is run by agri-business and large dairy interests that historically support looser agriculture and environmental regulations and enforcement. The group is backed by dozens of wealthy agriculture and non-agriculture sponsors that have contributed more than $2.1 million to statewide and legislative candidates, including more than $710,000 to Walker from January 2010 through December 2015.