Legal victory

Challenging Kinnard Farms Wastewater Permit

In July 2021, the Wisconsin Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling in favor of a group of Kewaunee County residents represented by Midwest Environmental Advocates. The court’s decision was the culmination of years of litigation aimed at securing the most basic of human rights—the right to clean water. It affirmed the authority of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to do what is necessary to protect Wisconsin’s waters from agricultural pollution.  

Case Summary

This case began when neighbors of Kinnard Farms, one of the state’s largest concentrated animal feeding operations, filed a petition asking the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to review a water discharge permit that had been issued to the farm in 2012. Our clients filed the challenge because Kinnard Farm’s water discharge permit did not do enough to protect water resources and public health. 

In 2014, an administrative law judge agreed with them, finding that Kewaunee County’s drinking water crisis had been caused by “massive regulatory failure.” Despite years of appeals and procedural delays, our clients—joined by Clean Wisconsin—refused to give up, and eventually their case reached Wisconsin’s highest court.  

In April, the Wisconsin Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case, along with another case brought by Clean Wisconsin that involves DNR’s authority to regulate high-capacity wells. In that case, the Court issued a separate decision affirming DNR’s authority to consider the cumulative impact of high-capacity wells when it issues water-withdrawal permits. 

In its decision in the Kinnard Farms case, the Court affirmed that groundwater monitoring requirements and a cap on the number of animal limits allowed under the permit are sensible and necessary permit conditions that will allow the DNR to adequately address the known water quality problems in Kewaunee County.  

Linda Cochart

Kewaunee County

News Related to this Case


MEA Clients Announce Legal Settlement Requiring Kewaunee County Livestock Facility to Stop Spreading Liquid Manure

Today, six Kewaunee County residents represented by MEA announced a settlement with Kinnard Farms, Inc. and the Wisconsin DNR in a legal dispute over Kinnard’s wastewater permit. The operation—one of the largest CAFOs in the state—has agreed to withdraw a legal challenge to the permit and to install processing technology designed to eliminate the disposal of liquid manure on agricultural fields.

Read More »