County Mulling Groundwater Ordinance
By Jacob Mathias
A revision to an existing animal waste ordinance could give the county some swing towards enforcing laws regarding groundwater pollution and nutrient management on large farms.
An existing county ordinance regulating animal waste storage would take on an amendment which would add nutrient management and groundwater protection under its purview. The amended ordinance was brought from concerns over mass manure storage on a proposed concentrated animal feeding operation or factory farm in the Town of Saratoga.
The ordinance would be enforced by the Land Conservation Department and those in violation of their nutrient management plan could be charged a $500 daily forfeiture in accordance with the ordinance. Only CAFOs are currently required to have nutrient management plans.
“We know what happens when factory farms dump excessive amounts of manure and our concern is with the groundwater and surface water,” said Bill Leichtnam, District 19 County Board Supervisor. ”
Excess phosphorus and nitrates that enter the water through the manure can be hazardous to health.
According to Leichtnam, the amendment to the ordinance would allow the Wood County Health Department and Conservationist to check water quality at sites with pollution concerns.
“If that pollution somehow managed to get permeated through the ground or down the well casing and into the groundwater, which would be a catastrophic event,” he said. “It would give the Wood County Health Department access to any site where there was suspected pollution.”
The health department also helped draft the amendment to the ordinance.
The proposed amendment has challenges ahead.
The ordinance is coming before the Wood County Board of Supervisors on August 18 in two forms and if both are approved could prove conflicting. While the ordinance language in both is nearly identical, the proposal by the Judicial and Legislative Committee adds in a full-time employee who would deal with the increased workload caused by the revised ordinance. The ordinance proposed by the Conservation, Education and Economic Development Committee omits that position.
Leichtman is on both committees and said that the only issue that CEED had with the amendment was the addition of the full-time position.
The new employee would work under the purview of the Land Conservation Department and look at developing and enforcing nutrient management plans for farmer’s crops.
A representative of the Health Department and Land Conservation Department was not immediately available.
In order to deal with the conflicting amendments, the board has a few options. They may move at the meeting to discuss both options at the same time and approve one, the other or neither. They can also amend either option to meet it in the middle. Even if the full proposal is approved by the board, the new position could still be eliminated during the budget process later in the year.
“I think the concern is adding staff prior to the issue. Saying, ‘We’re just going to add somebody. We don’t know if we’re going to have a problem yet but we’re going to add somebody,'” said County Board Supervisor Lance Pliml. “I don’t think the hang up is the gist of the ordinance. I think the hang up is when you fund it and why you fund it. If you don’t need it, why have it?”
Pliml said once it’s apparent that the level of work required by the amended ordinance, adding an employee would probably be approved.
“My main concern, and I know in a perfect world I could be reassured, but if we don’t have an employee position, I’m afraid with the workload the (LCD) has and the health department has, this thing will just be a nice little resolution to be dusted off on the shelf that will never be able to be implemented,” said District 17 Supervisor Joseph Zurfluh.
The board also received a letter from the John Holevoet, Director of Government Affairs for the Wisconsin Dairy Business Association which said the ordinance was counterproductive and unnecessary for the entire county. The WiDBA asked the board to vote against the amendment.
“Unfortunately, this ordinance appears to be an example of legislating rules for the entire county based upon unfounded concerns regarding one proposed farm in one small section of the county,” said Holevoet. “To dictate policy for the entire county based upon incorrect perceptions that only relate to a small corner of the county anyway is foolish. It would be bad governance and we ask that you reject it.”
Pliml said no response has been made to the letter.
The board meets on August 18 at 9:30 AM in the County Board Room of the Wood County Courthouse.