Series: CAFOs, Manure And Water

Wisconsin's wealth of freshwater is foundational to the state's agricultural economy. As livestock farms in the state grow ever larger in the 21st century, their impact on this resource is growing. The largest of these farms are termed concentrated animal feeding operations, often called CAFOs. These farms with hundreds or thousands of animals not only require more water, but they also produce colossal amounts of manure. Managing this livestock byproduct is a major undertaking. Manure can serve as a resource for fertilizing crops or for generating energy. At the same time, this waste regularly enters surface and groundwater, contaminating wells and wildlife habitat. How manure is handled is a focus of policymaking, and its increasing volumes can contribute to contentious relationships between CAFO operators and their neighbors.
 
Bayfield County is looking for more leeway from the state to protect water quality from potential farm runoff, but state officials say their hands are tied to the letter of the law.
Even with $20 million in public funds on offer to back a manure digester project, some in the energy and agriculture sectors say things remain murky.
It looks like Wisconsin will be counting on more animal waste digesters to handle the growing amount of cow manure at large dairy farms.
Some Kewaunee County leaders are asking for fast action from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in the new year to combat local problems with drinking and surface water.
In northern Wisconsin, water resources are quite apparent. Lakes dot the landscape, making it a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts. Abundant streams and springs provide habitat for groundwater-dependent species.
As the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources plans a major reorganization that proposes giving large livestock operations more leeway to write their own permit applications, at least one long-term trend will continue: the agency's work is growing more complex while its staff and budget are shrinking.
The Wood County town of Saratoga has passed a new ordinance to protect groundwater from manure spreading in its fight to keep a concentrated animal feeding operation from locating there.
As the state calls for ideas that use manure digesters to help improve drinking-water quality in Wisconsin, it's helpful to better understand how the actual functions of digesters align with the problem at hand.
The state of Wisconsin is betting on manure digesters in rural northeastern Wisconsin to curb water pollution and other environmental problems linked to the spreading of manure on dairy farms.
Questions and shock remain after a surprise announcement from Gov. Scott Walker last week that the state is ready to help build a manure biodigester in Kewaunee County.