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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This is what life with Kewaunee County water is like

Nov 04, 2014

There is a water crisis in Kewaunee County, Wisconsin.

Too many residents of places like the Town of Lincoln can’t drink from their wells. It’s taking lawsuits, grassroots organizing, and possibly intervention from the federal government to solve. This is how citizens are taking on the fight for clean water.

On October 22, 2014, Midwest Environmental Advocates, along with other partnering environmental organizations, submitted a petition to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, under its Safe Drinking Water Act authority, asking for action to address groundwater pollution in Kewaunee County where there is the highest concentration of industrialized livestock operations in the state.

Last week, Petitioners in a case challenging a water pollution permit issued by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to Kinnard Farms, Inc. received an excellent decision that will provide additional accountability and protection for groundwater from that industrial dairy operation.

One of the Petitioners in that case, Lynda Cochart, sent the following letter to the EPA in support of the Safe Drinking Water Act petition.

This is her story:

I am Lynda Cochart, a 66-year-old farmer from the Town of Lincoln in Kewaunee County at Casco, WI. I was born, raised, and have lived on this same country block of land my whole life. I own and farm 279 acres of land using sustainable practices. As a single woman, I have spent my life raising and protecting my five children and now also two grandchildren. It is a joyful and fulfilling job.

Life has changed for me. With continual water testing for a number of years now, I see our water quality steadily deteriorating and it has become a great concern.

In 2012, I spent that year suffering from and fighting MRSA, a harmful bacterial infection. It was life threatening and I fought hard to save my hand. I no longer have the use of my hand as I once did. My son also had MRSA in 2012 and had the threat of losing an eye.

A month ago my granddaughter fell on the farm and cut her hands and knees. In an immediate response she ran to the restroom to wash them off. I didn’t want to frighten her so I then suggested that we rinse it with nice, clean bottled water. A 6-year-old should not have to worry about safe water to wash her cuts, hands or face. I had a very unsettling night worrying about what I might have exposed my precious granddaughter to. You have to be on guard all the time so she doesn’t drink the water, brush her teeth with the water or get a wash cloth near her mouth. My grandchildren can’t stay overnight anymore because you can’t bathe them in the tub.

Recently as I began to make dinner I realized I didn’t have a full gallon of water left. I couldn’t boil and rinse pasta and have any water left for morning coffee. I had to make a choice. You have to stop dinner, go 15 miles and use a gallon of gas to go to the nearest store, and 15 minutes home and another gallon of fuel. The water to make a meal or coffee can get quite costly. Even buying water every time I go somewhere it is easy to run out. Canning got very expensive. Five gallons a day was not enough to can vegetables.

We have pets that mean the world to us. My granddaughter’s pony is priceless to our family and we could never replace him. His name is Stanley. Every morning and evening when I do my farm chores and turn the hydrant on to water the animals, I am very troubled thinking about what I am giving these animals to drink and that I might be shortening Stanley’s life with the water and shortening my granddaughter’s enjoyment of her pony. This isn’t right. It’s very wrong. It should not be happening in our country.

Realize we can’t drink, brush our teeth, wash dishes, wash food: we can’t use our water. Our water is on our mind all the time. If drinking it doesn’t kill us, the stress of having it on our mind and worrying about it all the time will. As a single farm woman, I cannot afford the cost of a new well.

The USDA did virus testing on our water. They said they would expect to see these findings in a Third World country. My well tested negative for human viruses and positive for bovine viruses with cow manure getting directly in my water supply. It has also shown salmonella. Previous tests have shown E. coli and high nitrates. I have had various groups test my water and results are always very troubling. It is always for studies or grants and there is never any help offered.

We need someone to pay attention to our water problem. We need help. No one should be allowed to do this to another human being. We cannot live without safe water and air. I have never asked for help but I am asking now. I am asking whoever is listening. Please look closely at what is going on around our area. It’s frightening. It has taken my ability to protect my children and grandchildren.

Many neighbors have gotten ill. Many with cancer. Many families have left. Please help those of us who have chosen to stay where we have lived our life. Please help us before what is happening to our water kills us.

We hope the court’s decision on the Kinnard Farms, Inc. pollution permit is a step in the right direction. Residents of Kewaunee County need the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to issue pollution permits with enforceable water pollution monitoring to ensure that livestock operations will not contribute to the groundwater pollution problem or contaminate neighbors’ wells.

But more needs to be done. The court’s decision in the Kinnard Farms, Inc. water pollution permit challenge made it clear that the DNR has not done enough to address the groundwater crisis and must use the authority it already has to implement and enforce clean water laws. We need action from the EPA to study the problem and provide a solution.

Everyone deserves clean drinking water and shouldn’t have to live like Lynda does.


Take action today - Tell the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to protect Kewaunee Water

Please visit the Clean Wisconsin website to sign onto the petition to the EPA and share your comments on why citizens in Wisconsin and Kewaunee County deserve better water protection.

The petition asks the EPA to exercise its emergency powers to provide safe drinking water where contamination poses serious health threats, investigate the source of contamination, and initiate enforcement actions against polluters that should be held accountable. Our petition has been filed, but now EPA needs to hear from you. Our petition partner, Clean Wisconsin, is compiling public comments to send to the EPA in support of the petition.

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