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DNR Ignoring Its Own Water Pollution Rules, State Audit Finds

Agency Sent Notices For Just 33 Of 558 Violations Over A Decade

Michael Leland/WPR

A state audit has found Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources been lax about monitoring large livestock farms and municipal and industrial wastewater treatment plants, in part because the agency doesn’t have enough staff to investigate the potentially dangerous water runoff.

A Legislative Audit Bureau report released Friday found the DNR didn’t consistently follow its own policies when sending enforcement letters about violations. It found the DNR only sent notices for 33 of the 558 instances they should have over the past decade.

The audit also found staff hasn’t been electronically recording submissions of annual reports required of concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs. Staff indicated they don’t have time to thoroughly review the reports, meaning areas of noncompliance could be slipping through the cracks.

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State Sen. Robert Cowles, who co-chairs the Legislative Audit Committee called the report “troubling.”

“At this point we don’t know if … these are a bunch of minor problems or they’re serious problems.” Cowles said. “The audit didn’t get into that part of it. This will take additional discussions and probably an extensive public hearing to zero in on that part of it.”

No hearing has yet been scheduled. Cowles said the understaffing and underfunding of the waste water treatment permitting department dates back years.

“It appears that area of the DNR has been understaffed for a decade,” he said. “And that’s why this is not a problem of this administration or that, it’s been a problem in two administrations and if they looked back further it might have been a problem too. They looked at 10 years in the audit and that’s the fair way to do it.”

A DNR statement says it’s already recognized many of the issues identified and has been working to address them.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with original reporting including statements from Sen. Robert Cowles.