Midwest Environmental Advocates is a nonprofit environmental law center that works for healthy water, air, land and government for this generation and the next. We believe that every citizen has the potential to make a difference.

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Improving livestock manure spreading rules and enforcement

— Advocating for improvements in manure spreading, runoff management and non-point source performance standards in environmental law enforcement in Wisconsin.

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On July 7, 2017, DNR released a draft of revisions to its runoff management and non-point source performance standards in Chapter NR 151 of the Wisconsin Administrative Code. This is the first step in the public review process of the proposed rule revisions. DNR will accept comments on the draft Economic Impact Analysis through August 7, 2017. For more information, go to DNR’s webpage on the NR 151 rule changes.

Case Summary

There is no question that something needs to change to deal with Wisconsin's groundwater contamination crisis. Citizens and environmental groups worked for many years to pressure the state Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to put public health first in enforcing laws on livestock waste management.

In 2016, the DNR initiated rule revisions to address groundwater contamination associated with agriculture in areas that are most susceptible to groundwater contamination—particularly in Kewaunee County and the surrounding northeast region where drinking water wells have levels of nitrates and bacteria that threaten human health. The proposed rule changes are intended to better protect groundwater from contamination by manure used as fertilizer on crop fields.

Overall the 2017 proposed rule revision is a step in the right direction, but Midwest Environmental Advocates will weigh in with suggested improvements to further strengthen the rule. Some of the most promising changes include:

  • a prohibition on mechanical applications of manure on fields that have less than two feet of soil over bedrock or groundwater;
  • a prohibition on mechanical applications of manure on frozen or snow-covered ground on fields with less than five feet of soil over bedrock;
  • a requirement that manure applications leave a 250-foot setback from drinking water wells;
  • promotion of reduced application rates, applying manure at the right time, and pathogen treatment.

There are other aspects of the proposed rule that could be strengthened or clarified. MEA is disappointed that the DNR did not take this opportunity to develop targeted performance standards for other regions of the state susceptible to groundwater contamination—such as southwest Wisconsin, and the central sands region. But this rule change proposal shows that DNR takes this issue seriously and recognizes the need for change.

We hope members of the public and businesses that value clean drinking water will weigh in during the public comment period on the Economic Impact Analysis, and later, on the draft rule.