Kinnard Farms is suing the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources over water quality requirements. Kinnard Farms is one of the largest dairy producers in the state, and is capped at 8,000 cows. And they’re pushing back on a decision from the DNR to require groundwater testing on the farm.
The move, which was filed on Earth Day, says that implementing the requirements would be harmful to their business.
It’s the latest in a drawn-out battle over how the state should approach groundwater testing. Kinnard Farms applied for a permit to double their capacity a decade ago. At the time, that decision was lambasted by a coalition of environmental groups, who filed a lawsuit. That lawsuit went through years of litigation, and was finally resolved by the Wisconsin Supreme Court last year. The state’s highest court found that the DNR had to weigh groundwater quality more heavily in permit decisions.
Chris Clayton is the Agricultural Runoff Section Chief with the Wisconsin DNR. He says that this lawsuit is a reaction to the DNR’s decision last month to mandate groundwater testing, and limit the farm’s expansion.
“In this case we altered the permit to include an animal unit cap for the farm for the remainder of their permit term. Essentially it caps their herd size to its current level. We also included in there the need to monitor for groundwater impacts underneath some land application fields near the farm. Those things in particular are being contested in this case,” Clayton says.
The lawsuit that forced the permit change came from citizens of Kewaunee County, where the farm is located, and environmental activists across the state. Evan Feinauer is the staff attorney with Clean Wisconsin, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting Wisconsin’s water, air, and natural heritage. He helped file the lawsuit.
“The backstory here is that Clean Wisconsin took Kinnard to court and won a case that started way back in 2012. We won back in July, when this case said ‘Hey DNR, you have authority to implement more to address groundwater pollution, go ahead and implement that authority.’ So this is sort of the rubber hitting the road, in the sense that the DNR is now implementing the authority in this case that Clean Wisconsin won last year. This is kind of the other shoe dropping, in terms of how that case is now playing out on the ground,” Feinauer says.
Kinnard Farms did not respond to WORT’s request for comment by airtime.
Kinnard Farms tells the Wisconsin State Journal that implementing groundwater testing would cost tens of thousands of dollars. They also say that not allowing the farms to double their herd size will harm their business.
But a lot of cows means a lot of manure. Tony Wilkin Gibart is the executive director of Midwest Environmental Advocates, a group that helped residents of Kewaunee County bring the original lawsuit against Kinnard Farms. He told WORT last month that having that much manure in one place is dangerous to groundwater.
“We and our clients presented to the DNR in the course of this permit modification an analysis to show that, given the concentration of cows and large factory farms in Kewaunee county there is nowhere left to safely spread manure. When you total all the manure and all the fertilizer that is present in the county, the landscape cannot absorb that amount of nitrates without affecting the groundwater and running into nitrate issues,” Wilkin Gibart says.
Feinauer says that he is disappointed to see the farm continue to fight against monitoring their groundwater.
“We settled the question of the department’s legal authority last year, and now what we’re continuing to see the farm pursue is whether or not the department’s decision to modify the permit is based on actual scientific methods. We clearly think it is, we think that the ground monitoring will be useful and will point towards future solutions to help improve water quality, so it’s pretty disappointing that something as simple as groundwater testing is being contested,” Feinauer says.
The action brought forward by Kinnard Farms is not technically a lawsuit, but instead a contested case to review the DNR decision. This means that the matter will be handled by the DNR, at least initially. Kinnard Farms is able to bring the matter before a judge if they so choose. Chris Clayton says that the DNR has not yet made a decision as to whether they will move forward with a hearing.