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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Rosendale Dairy

— Midwest Environmental Advocates worked with a Rosendale, WI, citizens group to protect their water, air and land from the impacts of the largest confined dairy operation in the state.

Case Summary

Just north of Rosendale, WI, in Fond du Lac County, an industrial dairy milks 8,300 head of dairy cows. The sheer scale of Rosendale Dairy is unprecedented in Wisconsin. The factory farm produces and stores over 90 million gallons of manure and wastewater each year; only the cities of Milwaukee and Madison produce more biological waste. Yet unlike these cities, the dairy stores the untreated manure in open lagoons before spreading it – still untreated – on area cropland. Additional impacts from the dairy’s operations include emissions of ammonia, a hazardous air pollutant, at levels exceeding the State standard for ambient air quality; withdrawal of nearly 90 million gallons of groundwater per year from on-site high-capacity wells; heavy truck traffic, estimated to be nearly 20,000 truck loads per year (an average of 53 trucks per day); and construction and paving of over 100 acres of formerly productive cropland.  

Residents and landowners within a few miles of this dairy’s location saw the widespread destruction of the natural landscape that took place at the site. The owners of the Dairy built the massive complex with abandon, ignoring DNR permitting requirements and using their lobbyists to influence the DNR’s environmental review process. The concerned neighbors organized a grassroots group – People Empowered Protect the Land (PEPL) of Rosendale. PEPL was troubled by the factory farm’s manure storage and disposal practices, hazardous air emissions, groundwater withdrawals, and truck traffic that jeopardized their clean air and drinking water. Midwest Environmental Advocates assisted PEPL in navigating the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ complex permitting process and minimize the risk of environmental degradation.

Midwest Environmental Advocates assisted PEPL with reviewing and commenting on the DNR’s Environmental Assessment, Environmental Impact Statement and water pollution discharge permit. In 2009, we submitted a Petition for Review of the water pollution discharge permit on behalf of PEPL. The petition alleged that the permit failed to comply with water quality standards for pollutants like phosphorus and sediment and failed to include an “antidegradation” review process designed to prevent unnecessary lowering of water quality. The petition also challenged the nutrient management plan for its failure to sufficiently identify subsurface tile lines and other drainage devices that can channel pollution to surface and groundwater and for its permission to land-spread manure on fields that have a very shallow depth to groundwater. 

PEPL settled the challenge with DNR and Rosendale Dairy in 2011 after it became apparent that the challenge to the permit had already resulted in significant changes to the permit, and further litigation would not result in more environmental protection.  Unfortunately, years of lobbying by the dairy industry has left Wisconsin with laws that favor factory farms over citizens. Despite this difficult legal environment, Midwest Environmental Advocates continues to work for agricultural practices that uphold the environmental heritage and economic history of Wisconsin’s agrarian past.