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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MEA Joins Environmental Groups to Call on EPA for Immediate Action in Kewaunee County

Mar 09, 2016

Today, several environmental protection advocacy organizations issued a letter to the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency calling for federal support in providing clean drinking water for households in Kewaunee County, Wisconsin.

Since filing a petition with the EPA on October 22, 2014, asking for EPA intervention under federal Safe Drinking Water Act powers, no government entity has stepped up to provide clean drinking water to residents. While the regulatory agencies have been meeting to evaluate the problem and develop solutions, groundwater pollution from landspreading of livestock waste continues to threaten the health of Kewaunee County residents living with contaminated drinking water wells.

In response to the petition, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources convened workgroups tasked with finding solutions to the problems facing the county with one of the highest number of concentrated animal feeding operations in Wisconsin. The DNR invited stakeholders to participate in workgroups to explore and develop recommendations for improvements in compliance with environmental laws, alternative technologies to manage livestock waste, and best practices for manure management in areas most susceptible to groundwater pollution.

Today’s letter to the EPA raises the alarm that this groundwater quality crisis persists and residents are not getting the immediate relief that they need from their government. It’s been more than a year since the petition for EPA emergency action and yet there has been no direct action to provide local residents with clean, reliable drinking water.

“After a year of talks, Kewaunee County residents are still waiting for local solutions to this continued drinking water crisis,” said Lynn Utesch, member of Kewaunee CARES and EPA petitioner. “We need the EPA to know that local residents are still facing unreasonable delays in drinking water contamination test results. The DNR or EPA did not provide safe drinking water in the fall of 2014, however citizen efforts and donations supported a clean drinking water kiosk for residents with contaminated wells. Now that the kiosk has been vandalized and shut down, residents are again out of options.”

The letter to the EPA asked for immediate action for relief in Kewaunee County including:

  • Immediately provide Kewaunee County residents with clean water – affected residents must have reasonable access to drinking water. The EPA and DNR must work together to provide water and to publicize on the web and direct mail where to obtain water.
  • Expedite well water contamination test results – The EPA and DNR must work together to ensure that well water contamination test information is returned to residents as soon as possible. Residents who are waiting for their test results must have access to clean water while they wait.
  • Emergency rule changes to clarify DNR authority to take action to protect water – The EPA should work directly with the DNR and the State of Wisconsin to ensure that any rule changes to implement workgroup recommendations are made quickly and through emergency rule making if necessary. The DNR has the authority to provide clean drinking water to Kewaunee County residents and to distribute compensation for well replacement through an environmental fund, but rule changes to clarify the agency’s authority may be needed to solve Kewaunee’s water crisis.
  • EPA research and groundwater monitoring on sources of pollution necessary – To our knowledge, EPA has not put any significant resources into studying the source of the groundwater contamination. The crisis demands a robust study of the contamination pathways that are the root cause of the drinking water contamination in Kewaunee County. If the EPA can’t or won’t fund necessary studies, at a minimum the EPA should order CAFOs that operate and land apply manure in particularly sensitive areas of the county to install groundwater monitoring at application sites to ensure that their operations are not contributing to the groundwater contamination.
  • EPA oversight of DNR necessary – The EPA should exercise close oversight of the DNR’s efforts to address the problem. The EPA should work with the DNR to develop an enforceable plan and timeline to take the actions described above, and to implement appropriate recommendations from the workgroups.

“We are insisting on immediate relief for Kewaunee County residents who can’t drink their water,” said Sarah Geers, MEA staff attorney. “In light of recent damage to the only free, clean drinking water kiosk in Algoma, Wisconsin, residents must continue to buy bottled water to keep their families safe. Land across our state is thawing from winter and the spring rains are coming – now more than ever, Kewaunee families need clean water. They cannot wait any longer."

Download the letter to the EPA.

For complete information about the original Safe Drinking Water Act petition and the results of the 2015 DNR workgroup discussions, visit our SDWA action page.

This news was covered in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the Door County Pulse (also with an update on U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s urging of the EPA and USDA to take action to protect groundwater and private drinking wells in the region). The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign had this to say about the EPA letter and the influence of agricultural interests on state politics.

/ tagged: water, government, rural, drinking water, agriculture, federal