Fighting Manure Pollution

Imagine waking up to make coffee, turning on your faucet and watching as brown, foul-smelling liquid comes pouring into your sink, onto your hands, and into your child’s water cup. It’s like something from a horror movie.

Unfortunately, this is the reality for many Wisconsinites. As factory farms – also called CAFOs – increase in size and number, toxic drinking water is becoming an acute crisis for hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin residents.

Entire communities are at risk for short-term and long-term consequences, ranging from diarrhea to learning disabilities to infant death. It’s real and it’s happening now.

Dangerous pathogens, bacteria, and chemicals are found in farm run-off, which gets into our groundwater, lakes, and streams. Private wells are becoming inundated with dangerous bacteria.

It’s estimated nearly 100,000 homes have wells contaminated with nitrates. The chemical can cause Blue Baby Syndrome, an acute medical emergency that can lead to infant death.

With little recourse and only expensive solutions to a problem they did not create, residents lack support from their state government. In fact, a nonpartisan report found the DNR looked the other way 95 percent of the time as factory farms violated rules intended to protect citizens.

Cows in Wisconsin generate more waste each year than the combined populations of Tokyo and Mexico City. It’s important to do the best we can to mitigate the risk to public health created by that waste before it becomes a crisis in other parts of the state, like it is in Kewaunee County.


Administrative Rule NR151 begins to address this problem in limited ways. We commend the rules for:

• Requiring that farms control the rate at which they apply manure on vulnerable areas.
• Creating larger manure application boundaries around private wells and other contamination points, like sinkholes and fissures.

In addition, the rules should be strengthened to prohibit manure application on soil less than three feet deep over bedrock.

We also call on the DNR to map and collect geologic and water quality data in southwest Wisconsin to prevent a crisis similar to what’s happening in Kewaunee County.