A manure runoff in a northeast Wisconsin killed fish in a nearby creek after employees of Shiloh Dairies spread thousands of gallons of manure on a hay field, then heavy rains washed much of it into the creek.
It's impossible to tell how much manure got into the Plum Creek, which runs into the Fox River in northern Calumet County, but anytime there's a fish kill, it’s a serious incident, said Ben Uvaas, a state Department of Natural Resources agricultural specialist.
"Most of the fish species that are dead, you're looking at suckers, minnows, shiners, those kind of species," Uvaas said. "We estimate that the fish kill in the most heavily impacted stretch of this creek is going to be a pretty high percentage of the creek."
Both Calumet and neighboring Kewaunee counties have high concentrations of concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs. Some families in the area can't drink the water from their wells.
The situation drove small farmer Nancy Utesch to co-find the environmental advocacy group, Kewaunee Cares. Spills and runoff incidents like Plum Creek happen too often, Utesch said.
"People may want to call them an accident, but I think they are becoming more commonplace in our communities, as well as manure tanker rollovers and accidents," she said.
Sign up for daily news!
Stay informed with WPR's email newsletter.
The most important issue in Kewaunee County is access to clean drinking water, Utesch said. The second most important is the end of the DNR's voluntary compliance policy on CAFOs.
"Industrial farming always touts that it's the most heavily regulated industry. But what needs to follow with those regulations is actual enforcement," Utesch said. "Currently, things are done under voluntary compliance and that is not working."
The DNR learned of the runoff after someone called in a tip to the DNR's Warden Tip Line, Uvaaas said.
"This is really, really important that a citizen saw something that they weren't sure about. They had concerns then they took the next step to notify the DNR," he said.
Shiloh Dairies will face some level of enforcement, but the DNR must first finish an investigation, Uvaas said. Shiloh Dairies is working with the DNR to clean up what manure it can from Plum Creek.