Re: WPDES Permit No. WI-0059412-02-0
Mark Cain, Wastewater Engineer
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
South Central Regional Headquarters
3911 Fish Hatchery Road
Fitchburg, WI 53711
March 10, 2010
Dear Mr. Cain:
I’m writing this letter to reinforce the testimony that I presented to you at the hearings you held last August in Evansville and again last week in Albany. I’m writing to oppose your proposal to re-issue a Wisconsin Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit to Larson Acres, Inc. in the township of Magnolia in western Rock County. I believe the sparse turnout of local residents each time you allowed public testimony on this permit – in meeting rooms so far from where people live in proximity to Larson Acres’ industrial dairy operation – reveals a number of important facts surrounding your permit process.
They reveal the difficulty in meeting times and locations that you’ve created for those of us whose health and safety are directly affected by this industrial dairy and who deserve to be fairly heard and protected. Our residents include elderly, retired farmers; sick and infirm individuals; Amish families without their own transportation to distant meeting places; and working families, trying to hang onto farmland and their properties in difficult times.
They demonstrate the state’s accommodation of outside interests, business interests, political interests – over the interests of those of us who live along Allen Creek and Norwegian Creek, where thousands of acres have been receiving millions of gallons of liquid manure for years now from Larson Acres’ land applications, and whose wells in alarming numbers show rising nitrate contamination.
They reveal the extreme lack of credibility the public has for the DNR, for a permit process that has allowed violation after violation of the federal Clean Water Act, and for water protection and enforcement under state regulations.
As I’ve tried to call to your attention repeatedly, the Town of Magnolia hired scientists and technicians to test water in wells, field tiles and the creek crossing Larson Acres’ property on County Hwy B, where its heifer production is concentrated in a quarter-mile long CAFO. Their data became the basis for a successful lawsuit against Larson Acres in 2008, and yet the DNR has apparently chosen to ignore the evidence and that court decision in proceeding with permit renewal for a facility that is now doubling its production.
Scientists reporting to the town included soil and water scientist Dr. Byron Shaw, aquatic ecologist and bio-geochemist Professor Emily Stanley, hydrologist and aquatic biologist David Marshall, retired lab manager from the Environmental Chemistry and Technology Program at the UW-Madison Philip J. Emmling, and hydro-geologist Peter Taglia. These respected scientists studied Larson Acres’ crop records and soil samples. They tested wells, surface water and drain tiles at Larson Acre’s heifer operation and in the vicinity. They carefully evaluated agronomy, health, safety, local geology and soils at the operation’s quarter-mile long dry cow feeding barn and massive slurry, built to accumulate more than 6 million gallons of manure every 300 days.
Their evidence and analysis formed the basis for more than 2,500 pages of public record. It showed well water readings of up to and more than 30 ppm nitrate. It showed creek water readings of more than 200 ppm nitrate and field tile readings of more than 100 ppm nitrate. Water upstream from the property tested under 4 ppm nitrate. I asked you, Mr. Cain, last August if you had read these reports and findings of fact, which formed the basis of the successful lawsuit by the town in its ongoing attempts to condition permits to Larson Acres to protect water, health and safety in our vicinity. You said that “all of that had been answered by DATCP.”
I subsequently discovered that all of that had absolutely NOT been answered or even read in entirety by the party at DATCP to whom you had me next speak. And the concerns we citizens continue to have about our well and surface waters around Larson Acres’ expanding industrial dairy operation are still valid and significant.
Federal water standards tell us that 10 ppm nitrate, which can starve the body of oxygen in the blood stream much as it starves aquatic life of oxygen in surface water, is unsafe to drink. The U.S. Geological Survey and state Department of Natural Resources tested 240 streams around Wisconsin and found an average of only 2 ppm nitrate between 2001 and 2003.
Nitrate levels that scientists were finding at Larson Acres’ heifer operation in Magnolia Township, were not only abnormal. They were, they are, lethal. The operation had been incorporating millions of gallons of liquid manure in fall and spring even ahead of its conditional use permit under the new state law. Both Shaw and Stanley, emeritus and sitting professors of the University of Wisconsin, told the town what they were finding at the confined animal feeding operation was the most serious pollution they had seen in their academic and professional careers.
Nitrate pollution’s health impacts include Blue Baby syndrome, developmental and birth defects. It is affiliated with forms of cancer, such as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and bladder cancers. Risks to other organisms, including livestock, are slowed growth, slowed body functions that can result in stillbirth and even death.
Dr. Shaw told the local board that Larson Acres’ field records and soil samples showed phosphorus levels more than 5 times what they should have been on more than half of its land base. He said it could easily take 18 years of letting the soil completely rest, with no fertilizer or manure applications whatsoever, for crops to take up that much phosphorus and return levels safely to normal. He said this was also an indication that too much nitrate had been applied to the same land.
Given these circumstances and the deaf ear our local officials and residents have been receiving to findings of fact at Larson Acres, I was amazed to read in the State Journal newspaper last week about the settlement by Thompson’s Gold Dust Dairy, LLC in Brown County over a suit the Department of Justice filed. Included in the suit were violations such as manure pits actively overtopping and manure flowing through a ditch to a navigable waterway. These same incidents have been documented in DNR files at Larson Acres, including other violations, such as a navigable waterway testing positive for manure, emergency spreading of liquid manure on frozen ground because of an overtopping slurry and a spill of at least 30,000 gallons of liquid manure after a hose clamp broke.
Gold Dust LLC was taken to court and settled for $80,000 for such problems. To my knowledge no action was ever taken for similar incidents at Larson Acres’ property. In fact, all of these incidents have happened during and under the DNR waste permit process, with operation further allowed to proceed freely for 5 years under an expired permit, a second CAFO at the opposite end of the township allowed to be folded into the expired permit, and a delaying of public hearing and testimony almost a year beyond construction that broke ground last summer to now double the size of the operation to more than 5,000 animals.
I hardly think anyone would undertake a $12 million building project – with a waste pollution discharge elimination system permit hanging in the balance – if there were any likelihood that the project would not be approved. Our local residents believe that the permit process and its issuance are a cruel hoax with potentially lethal consequences. Everything living and dependent on clean water – our livestock, our families and children, aquatic life in our creeks and streams – in the vicinity of the land application of liquid manure from this concentrated animal feeding operation is threatened.
We ask you to deny the permit. We ask you to carefully read the findings of independent scientists reporting to the Town of Magnolia. We ask you to consult with independent reliable, authorities that have no vested business interest in what is happening in our rural community. We ask you to set and toughen requirements for this operation that address the serious problems that have happened at Larson Acres under your watch. We ask that seasonal independent monitoring of water and soils be required of Larson Acres and paid for by them through the township. We ask you to assure our people of health and safety protections.
We also strongly oppose the shifting of CAFO permitting to a “general” rather than “site-specific” review by the DNR. We ask that you dialogue with the people directly affected by the expansion and permitting of this facility and its land application of liquid manure. We ask you to consider the needs of those of us who are being taxed for you to protect our natural resources as well as our health and safety. We ask you to consider our health and safety first, and not simply or only the business interests of individuals whose industrial practices are taxing the ecology of our vital soils and waters.
Local concern about the extent of nitrate contamination in the vicinity of Larson Acres and as a direct result of their land application of liquid manure has drawn the attention of state-wide organizations. I ask you to consider the friend-of-the-court briefs that a number of organizations, including the Wisconsin Towns Association and the Wisconsin Lakes Association, the Town of Dunn, Dane County and others have submitted to the state appeals court in support of Magnolia’s attempts to condition the livestock facility siting permit to Larson Acres. Their Amicus Briefs can be found at http://wscca.wicourts.gov Appeal No. 2009AP000608.
The local citizenry and local elected and appointed officials do not want to resort to protracted legal battles in order to obtain assurances of health and safety. We’ve been in court over and over the past 10 years: to void an improperly obtained conditional use permit; to defend that ruling against appeal; to obtain a warrant in order to test well water on Larson Acres’ County B CAFO (where a reading of more than 30ppm nitrate in the well was taken); to obtain penalties for illegal numbers of animals being maintained at the same facility for more than 2 years; to condition farming practices, reduce nitrate levels in water and phosphorus loading in soils, and provide assurances of health and safety; to defend the latter court ruling against appeal.
We ask you to please deny this permit. We ask you to restore the public confidence in the Wisconsin DNR. We ask you to enforce the protections of our state and federal government under the Clean Water Act. We ask you to send a clear message to everyone concerned that our water and thus our health and safety are of primary concern of the Wisconsin DNR.
Tony Ends for Green-Rock Citizens for Clean Water
910 Scotch Hill Road
Brodhead, WI 53520