Friday, September 18, 2009

Farm waste contaminates groundwater in rural northern Wisconsin

A story in today's New York Times features the dateline Morrison, Wisconsin, population 1,651. Charles Duhigg tells the tale of environmental pollution from dairy farming in this rural community that is part of metropolitan Brown County, which is populated by 240,801 people and 41,000 cows. Liquid manure from these cows--mostly dairy cows fed a protein-rich diet-- creates millions of gallons of waste each year, most of which is sprayed on grain fields. But as one official put it, "there just isn’t enough land to absorb that much manure," and when excessive amounts of waste are sprayed on land, bacteria and chemicals can flow into groundwater and contaminate residents’ wells. More than 30% of wells in one Brown County town violated basic health standards.

One interesting aspect of the story is the tension that this pollution has caused between the dairy farmers, who are seen as rich and powerful, and others in the community who have suffered the environmental consequences of their farming methods. The following quote refers to Dan Natzke, whose 1,400 cows produce 1.5 million gallons of manure a month.
“I go to church with the Natzkes,” said Joel Reetz, who spent $16,000 digging a deeper well after he learned his water was polluted. “Our kid goes to school with their kids. It puts us in a terrible position, because everyone knows each other.
“But what’s happening to this town isn’t right,” he said.
Duhigg notes that Wisconsin is not alone in facing this problem. He lists California, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Maryland as other states where agricultural waste has contaminated ground water, as well as bodies of water like Chesapeake Bay.

1 comment:

Slice of Pink said...

Although animal farming can now seemingly produce unlimited quantities of meat for human consumption, there are so many costs, including the contamination of water. The Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone, for example--over 8,000 square feet of water completely devoid of marine life--is the result of fertilizer, sewage, and animal waste runoff, which is dumped into the Gulf from the mouth of the Mississippi River.

Hopefully regulation will address this detrimental and wasteful practice--and hopefully the regulations will be more rigorous than those passed during the G. W. Bush administration, which allowed farmers to self-certify that they won't pollute.