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Baldwin Discusses Possible Water Contamination Solutions With Kewaunee County Residents

30 Percent Of Tested Wells In County Unfit For Human Consumption

Socially Responsible Agriculture Project (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Among more than 300 private wells that were tested Kewaunee County last fall, 34 percent were so contaminated they have been deemed unfit for any human use, according to the county’s Groundwater Task Force. The 10-year average was about 30 percent of tested wells.

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin met with county residents Wednesday whose drinking water is contaminated with manure from factory dairy farms. The meeting was a way to gauge the severity of the situation and to see what the federal government can do to strengthen federal enforcement of manure runoff rules, Baldwin said.

Kewaunee County is home to many large-scale dairy farms. It has more than 100,000 dairy cows compared to its roughly 21,000 residents.

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Meeting attendees had recommendations on how the state and federal governments can improve water quality.

County Board Member and county Groundwater Task Force Chair Lee Luft said statewide groundwater guidelines aren’t one size fits all, especially for areas such as northeastern Wisconsin’s Karst region, a region some say is a geologically vulnerable area.

“Kewaunee County, Door County, parts of Brown County, parts of Outagamie County, anywhere in the state — and there are a good number of areas in the state — that have shallower soils and cracked bedrock. There needs to be recommendations and regulations that fit with the geology of that area.”

Luft wants the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to enforce existing manure spreading rules and come up with new ones for geologically vulnerable areas. If not, he supports federal intervention.

Baldwin, a Wisconsin Democrat, said she was on a fact-finding mission.

“How do we make sure every resident can turn on their faucet and know that their drinking water is safe, and if it isn’t, have a free supply of drinking water?”

Large-scale dairy producers in the region have highlighted voluntary changes they’ve made to help reduce the amount of animal waste creeping into local groundwater and rivers.

Baldwin heard reports from local residents and lawmakers along with officials from the Environmental Protection Agency, United States Department of Agriculture and state DNR.

Correction: An earlier version of this story put the percentage of contaminated wells in Kewaunee County at 30 percent. That number applies to tested wells, not total well.