Agricultora


Planned Rock County Mega-Dairy Criticized at Public Hearing
May 13, 2011, 10:13 pm
Filed under: Activism, Farm

(Long time no post, I’m sorry! But I went to a hearing in Janesville Monday night that I want to give a heads-up about, late as it is, if anyone still reads this:)

A public hearing in Janesville, Wisconsin Monday evening allowed the community to comment on the proposed Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (WPDES) permit being finalized by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for Rock Prairie Dairy LLC in Bradford Township in Rock County.

Tuls' Butler County DairyRock Prairie Dairy LLC is owned by Todd Tuls, who, with two similarly sized CAFOs in Nebraska, is recognized as Nebraska’s biggest dairy farmer.

Mr. Tuls will send his son TJ, a college freshman, to Wisconsin to run the new facility.

The proposed dairy, a confined animal feedlot operation (CAFO) and “factory farm” in every sense of the term, would milk 4,600 cows three times a day and house a total of 5,200 (including dry cows and heifers), according to a company handout available at the hearing and confirmed by a DNR fact sheet.

The WPDES permit would be issued for the maximum allowable period of five years, expiring March 31, 2016.

The proposed site of the operation is in the watershed of Turtle and Blackhawk Creeks, two tributaries of the Lower Rock River. Construction has already begun, based on other permits already approved by the DNR and other agencies.

According to DNR permit drafter Mark Cain, there would be zero discharge from production. Liquid manure would be strained out of the sand bedding and solid manure from six freestall barns, collected in four manure storage facilities and sent via a dragline hose to fields where it would be injected straight into the soil.

This reflects a change in the permit. An initial draft proposed “center pivot nutrient applications,” or spray irrigation with liquid manure. After a February letter from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services expressed concern over “Public Health setbacks for manure spray irrigation,” Tuls removed the center pivots from the application, but Cain says that they’re not ruled out permanently and could be added at a later date after further review and permit modification.

The liquid manure storage facilities, or lagoons, one of which is already built, would be lined and covered with high-density polyethylene (HDPE), with bio-filtered vents.  One is lined with cement.  The three remaining would be lined with HDPE, and leak detection units would be installed under the liner. The capacity of all four is enough for a projected 397-days of manure.

Solid manure would be stored (with enough storage for a year of production) and then spread over more than 5,200 acres of leased farmland in the area as “nutrient management,” replacing a portion of the synthetic fertilizer currently used on those lands.

The draft permit specifies that applications of solid manure “will not occur within 100 feet of a private well or other direct conduits to groundwater or within 1,000 feet of a municipal well.”

Cain said that Rock Prairie Dairy’s provisions are more protective than other Wisconsin CAFOs but admitted that compliance would be self-monitored and -reported by the factory farm, submitted annually to the DNR.

All 5,200 cows would be housed at all times and fed a mix of conventional feed and sweet corn silage made from the waste from Seneca Cannery in Janesville. Excess sweet corn silage could also be applied to land in the area under a provision of the permit.

Members of the audience distributed pamphlets with pictures of a release of 320,000 gallons of purple leachate coming off of 26,000 tons of silage at Traditions Dairy, a mega-dairy near Nora, IL in late September and early October, 2010. This dairy was also designed to be zero-discharge, and dumped this leachate on 5 acres, causing a tributary of the Apple River to turn purple within 24 hours. Samples of the leachate-contaminated creekwater showed a Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD) of 400, twice the level of raw sewage.

Tradition Dairy Leachate

Tradition Dairy Leachate

Tradition Dairy LeachateLocal resident Dr. Margaret Palera, in an impassioned speech in opposition to the permit proposal, showed maps of the proposed site and pointed out that it’s located directly over a large recharge aquifer in the Turtle Creek Watershed.  Turtle Creek Watershed has been “a priority watershed project under the Wisconsin Nonpoint Source Water Pollution Abatement Program,” but a post-project evaluation report found that “there was no discernible watershed-wide reduction in nonpoint source (runoff) pollutant loads” and so it is still an area of concern, according to a 2001 “Lower Rock River Water Quality Management Plan” published by the Walworth County Land Use & Resource Mangement Department.

Palera Comments & Maps

Dr. Palera suggested 350-foot setbacks between manure applications and direct conduits to groundwater given the volume of manure, a three-year rather than a five-year permit and a prohibition on spray irrigation of liquid manure.

Miriam Ostrov, a staff attorney at Midwest Environmental Advocates who has been working on behalf of community members like Tony and Dela Ends of Scotch Hill Farm in Brodhead, a family farm with a small herd of dairy goats, pointed out remaining deficiencies in the permit application. For example, she said, “the draft permit fails to require groundwater monitoring of land application fields” for standard contaminants like “nitrate, fecal coloform and chlorides.”

Julie Waite, who with her husband Jeff and three children has a small family farm in southcentral Wisconsin, pointed out that the land leased for the land application of solid manure is largely tiled, so that manure runoff could leach through into groundwater. She pointed out that there are 150 pathogens in manure. A 2003 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report entitled “National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permit Regulation and Effluent Limitation Guidelines and Standards for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs)” confirms that “more than 150 pathogens found in livestock manure are associated with risks to humans.”

Comments on the proposed permit can be sent to:

Mark Cain, Permit Drafter
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources – South Central Region
3911 Fish Hatchery Rd.
Fitchburg, WI 53711

The comment period ends Tuesday, May 17, 2011.

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