Ag’s Big Money and Polluted Well Water in Kewaunee County

December 22, 2015

Dairy Cows

In Kewaunee County, cows outnumber people thanks largely to factory farms. According to a recent study, one in three wells in the county failed to meet safety standards for drinking water.

Kewaunee County has 15 factory farms and nearly 100,000 cows that produce more waste than the human population of Milwaukee.

The study, which was conducted by federal and University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh researchers, found that 34 percent of the county’s 320 water wells had nitrate and coliform bacteria levels that exceeded health safety standards. Nitrate and coliform are found in manure, among other sources.

The study, which was done for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), doesn’t blame manure spreading for the county’s surface and groundwater pollution problem yet. The next phase of the study will use DNA analysis to determine whether the bacteria in 20 of the wells comes from humans or cattle.

Manure spreading, which is done to fertilizer the soil, has become a controversial issue in Kewaunee County and the state overall in recent years because of the huge amount of manure produced on factory farms. And, the DNR under Republican Gov. Scott Walker has been frequently criticized in recent years for being too friendly to big business and other special interests at the expense of enforcing clean air, water and other environmental rules.

Agriculture interests contributed nearly $1.9 million to Walker and nearly $922,000 to current legislators between January 2010 and June 2015. Contributions by owners of factory farms, which include large livestock operations and vegetable growers, are among the agriculture industry’s top individual campaign contributors.

Owners of three of the 15 Kewaunee County factory farms contributed nearly $9,000 to Walker and current legislators between January 2010 and June 2015. John Pagel, of Kewaunee, owner of Pagel’s Ponderosa Dairy and Dairy Dreams LLC, contributed $4,900 to Walker and $2,450 to current legislators and a legislative fundraising committee. Gerald Stahl, of Green Bay, owner of Da-Ran Dairy, contributed $900 to Walker and $600 to current legislators.