Everything you wanted to know about CAFOs, but were afraid to ask

Editor’s note - This column written by Gina Holtz is an amazing detailed and referenced overview of CAFOs with their twisted relationships with various govenerment agencies. At first glace one might think they are protected, only to realize they are not, and that the citizen has few rights or say in the matter.  It is a long read, but well worth your effort, as this is the most important local issue of our time.

By Gina Holtz -
Dear Citizens of Crawford County,
Did you ever have a moment in life when you realized how unaware you have been about what is happening around you?  I have had these moments in my life, and they usually occur after I notice things that happened while I was distracted.
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I’ve missed turns or traveled in the wrong direction while driving, my children have acted as tornadoes in the house while I was doing yard work, the dog has chewed up shoes while I was cooking dinner on so on. About seven weeks ago I had another realization of how unaware I have been about what is happening around me, not just in my home, or my neighborhood, but throughout our state and country. I learned from a neighbor that a CAFO, otherwise known as a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation, was planning to start up in our neighborhood in Marietta Township. I realized at that time that I knew nothing about CAFOs or what CAFO even stood for. So, like many people do, I Googled it. 

After many hours of weeding out information from questionable sites and reading information from those I considered to be more reliable, I realized how unaware I have been about what has been, and is, currently going on in the farming industry. I am not against a person’s right to farm; in fact, I have friends who are farmers. Also, where my husband and I built our retirement home in Steuben, we have many times had more trail cam footage of cows wandering our property than anything else, and we are okay with that, otherwise we would not have built where we did. However, what I have learned about CAFOs has been shocking to me and I would like to share some of the information with you. As you may have read or heard about already, Marietta Township has passed a 12-month CAFO moratorium and I am hoping that Crawford County will follow suit in order to protect the people and our environment.

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Please understand that when I first heard about the possible CAFO in my neighborhood, I started researching with an open mind. I felt I could not be for or against something that I did not know enough information about. What I learned in the last seven weeks has been alarming. In this letter I could not begin to cover all of the negative CAFO impacts on communities that I have learned about; however, I do want to share some with you.

Program! Program! Get your Program, if you want to follow the action!
Before I get to the information though, I want to let you know what I first realized, and that is that our government agencies like to use acronyms, in fact, they like to use them a lot! While I knew what a few of them stood for, due to the fact that I have never really been involved with politics or government procedures and rulings, or have taken the time to read information related to farming or CAFOs before this, it took me awhile to figure out what some of the acronyms stood for and what they pertained to. I’m sure many of you reading this already know these, but for those who do not, here’s what I found out:
1. DATCP = Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection,
2. ATCP 51 = the rule implemented by the DATCP which sets standards and procedures that local governments must follow in relation to livestock facility siting.
3. USDA = United States Department of Agriculture,
4. NRCS = Natural Resources Conservation Service,
5. DNR = Department of Natural Resources,
6. WPDES = Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, which is a permit issued by the DNR
7. DHS = (Wisconsin) Department of Health Services,
8. DPH = (Wisconsin) Department of Public Health,
9. CDC = Center for Disease Control and Prevention,
10. NCBI = National Center for Biotechnology Information
11. NIH = National Institute of Health
12. NLM = National Library of Medicine
13. SWIGG = Southwest Wisconsin Groundwater and Geology Study
14. DAWS = Driftless Region Water Quality Study and in Marietta township we now have
15. RLICWG = Rural Land and Infrastructure Conservation Working Group. 

Should I be worried?
Now, on to what I have learned so far on this journey. The first thing I wanted to know was just what are citizens’ concerns about CAFOs.  I found information from The Wisconsin Department of Public Health (DPH) P-00977 which states: “Some concerns raised about the potential impacts of CAFOs include: changes in air quality; increased odor and noise complaints; changes in land use; groundwater and surface water quality changes; damage to local roads from increased heavy truck traffic; and impacts on quantity and quality of nearby drinking water wells.”

While all of these issues concern me deeply, due to the karst geology in this area of the state, the changes that CAFOs can have on surface, ground, and drinking water is what I personally worry about the most.
From the same DPH publication, I also learned that, “The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) sets rules to protect groundwater and surface water near CAFOs. The DNR regulates storage and spreading of manure and process wastewater through the WPDES permit program and requires nutrient management plans for CAFOs as part of the permit process.”
Great!  I felt good knowing that the DNR would look out for my water, an essential for life, and ensure that a CAFO would not be allowed to exist in an area that would contaminate the wells of nearby residents, or the nearby waterways. Then reality hit!

From Sustain Rural Wisconsin.org I learned that, “the DNR is currently using outdated and inaccurate rainfall data in its requirements for CAFO discharge limits from the production area, manure volume and storage calculations, and the amount of land needed for manure application. The DNR does not track operator requests or approvals for emergency manure spreading permissions and that The Natural Resources Defense Council’s May 2017 report places Wisconsin as the 11th worst state with nearly 1,400 Safe Drinking Water Violations in 2015.” I also learned that the DNR has not been overseeing CAFO operations as well as they are supposed to due to staff and funding shortages. In fact, in June of this year, based on data from the DNR website, WPR.org reported that, “72 out of 308 CAFOs in the state, which is just under one-fourth of them, are currently operating with expired permits.”

What a letdown! My hope that the DNR would protect my surface water, ground water and well water was now crushed. However, I was encouraged to hear what the DNR Secretary designee, Preston Cole had to say during an interview on UPFRONT, which aired last month, on July 21st. He said, “This is the year of clean drinking water. We (DNR) are doubling down on ensuring that people can turn on their tap and drink life-giving water. He went on to say, “Too many communities around the state of Wisconsin are in harms way. You merely have to go to Kewaunee County and that area of the state to see that that karst topography, that slurry and dolomite, that bedrock is like swiss cheese. So, whatever falls on the land winds up in groundwater. People are in harms way.”
After hearing his comments, my next questions were: 1. What is falling on the ground that is putting people in harms way, and 2. What happened in Kewaunee County?

Stuff happens, but this is a lot in one place... the wrong place!
I found out that the manure produced, stored, transported, injected and spread by CAFO operations is what is putting people in harms way. I learned from Professor John Ikerd’s publication, CAFOs; The Facts about Factory Farms that, “A “small” CAFO, meaning 1000 animal units or 2,500 head of hogs generates biological waste equivalent to the human waste from a community of 7,500 to 10,000 people.”  My first thought was WOW, that’s a lot of waste! Just to compare I searched the United States Census Bureau and found that the 2017 recorded population of Prairie du Chien is 5,653 and Crawford county is 16,214. It is unthinkable to me that a CAFO would be allowed to spread, or inject the raw sewage produced by their animals, that would be equivalent to the raw sewage produced by almost double the amount of people in Prairie du Chien and just less than the total population of Crawford County, over fields or directly into the ground, or pump it through draglines that could burst or leak, with little to no oversight.

The track record for CAFOs in not encouraging
The CDC’s publication, Understanding Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations and Their Impact on Communities states, “The agriculture sector, including CAFOs, is the leading contributor of pollutants to lakes, rivers, and reservoirs. Groundwater can be contaminated by CAFOs through runoff from land application of manure, leaching from manure that has been improperly spread on land, or through leaks or breaks in storage or containment units.” 
The article, Impacts of Waste from Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations on Water Quality from NCBI/NLM/NIH also states, “Based on available data, generally accepted livestock waste management practices do not adequately or effectively protect water resources from contamination with excessive nutrients, microbial pathogens, and pharmaceuticals present in the waste. Impacts on surface water sources and wildlife have been documented in many agricultural areas in the United States. Potential impacts on human and environmental health from long-term inadvertent exposure to water contaminated with pharmaceuticals and other compounds are a growing public concern.

Siting of livestock operations in areas prone to flooding (such as Crawford County) or where there is a shallow water table increases the potential for environmental contamination”
The Chicago Tribune article, Spills of Pig Waste Kills Hundreds of Thousands of Fish in Illinois the writers wrote, “…the Tribune found that pollution incidents from hog confinements killed at least 492,000 fish from 2005 through 2014 …Pig waste impaired 67 miles of the state’s rivers, creeks, and waterways over that time. Please, do not allow this to happen in Crawford County.

As far as what happened in Kewaunee County, which has 16 CAFOs, I learned from wisconsinwatch.org’s article, Most Nitrate, Coliform in Kewaunee County Wells Tied to Animal Waste, that, “Scientists are one step closer to understanding how dangerous contaminants from fecal matter are entering private wells in Kewaunee County. New research by U.S. Department of Agriculture microbiologist Mark Borchardt shows nitrate and coliform in the water mostly comes from agriculture –not human waste. Borchardt’s study found that the No. 1 risk factor for contamination was the proximity of a well to a manure storage pit. Borchardt said the closest well in the study was 150 feet from a manure pit, but even wells three miles away still have some risk of being contaminated with coliform.”

Things may be changing, but not sure which direction
The results of my research now has me seriously concerned about a possible CAFO, which produces monstrous amounts of manure that would be stored, spread, pumped, injected, whatever, on a ridge composed of karst topography with known sinkholes and caves all approximately mile up the hill from my well and the Kickapoo River. So, I turned my efforts into finding out the answers to how can this be permitted, what is the process.

I learned that a license is issued by Crawford County, among others, which is required for new or expanded livestock facilities that will have 500 or more animal units. The license requirements have to comply with the requirements of ATCP 51, which is the rule implemented by the DATCP which sets standards and procedures that local governments must follow in relation to livestock facility siting. While researching what requirements are included in ATCP 51, which was adopted in 2006 and has not been revised since, I found out that the DATCP has written proposed changes this year, which provide more protections for citizens. The DATCP has scheduled public hearings around the state to explain the proposed changes and gather public input on them. I am planning on attending one of these hearings in order to learn more.

I also found out that in February of 2018, the Crawford County Board unanimously passed Resolution No. 1-2018 related to Livestock facility siting which, in part, stated, “the Crawford County Board of Supervisors determines that a situation exists which threatens the public health, safety, and welfare of the citizens of Crawford County.” The resolution has ten whereas statements pointing out why the state “should respect local control and flexibility by allowing for county and municipal ordinances…to protect our sensitive water resources, as was done for counties in the eastern part of the state through Wisconsin administrative code changes.” I do not know if the county has gotten any response from the state about this, but I do question why a county moratorium was not passed by officials at that time.

What can one do?
At this time, based on the statements included in County Resolution NO. 1-2018, the pending revisions to ATCP 51, and the upcoming results from the Driftless Area Water Study, I am urging Crawford County residents to contact their representatives. Contact them via phone, mail, or in person at the next board meeting to urge them to enact a moratorium within the next month suspending the licensing, per their ordinance, of any new or expanding livestock facilities with 500 or more animal units until the new ATCP 51 rules are enacted and until the Driftless Area Water Study (DAWS) is completed.

I developed a website, wicafoinfo.weebly.com where you can find all of the contact information for the Crawford County Board Members. Their next meeting is scheduled for August 20th, at 10:00 at the Crawford County Administration Building in room 236. There is a time for public comment on the agenda if anyone would like to speak about this issue directly to the board members. 

I will also include links on the website to the readings I have referenced in this letter, but please be patient with me as I am not a website guru by any means!
I appreciate, and thank all of you who took the time to read this very long, information laden letter. I hope that it leads you to take action to protect our surface, ground, and well water in Crawford County and to help keep it safe for human consumption, recreation and ecotourism.

Gina Holtz

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