Hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin residents are at risk of illness from waterborne pathogens in private and public drinking water supplies. Contamination by pathogens is of special concern because unlike pollution by metals or chemicals, pathogens can sicken people after just a single exposure.
They’ve traveled 1,000 miles across Wisconsin, drawing attention to important issues affecting the quality and supply of our state’s water. Now, four sculptures crafted by artist Carrie Roy are headed for the next stage in their adventure: They’re for sale.
Despite fish kills, toxic algae blooms, unsafe beaches and an annual dead zone in the Lake Michigan bay sparking concern across the region, the level of phosphorus loading has changed little over the past two decades, and even gone up in the past couple of years. “I’m part of the problem,” said John Pagel of Pagel’s Ponderosa Dairy, one of the largest farms in Wisconsin, at a summit hosted by U.S. Rep. Reid Ribble in Green Bay. “But I’m also part of the solution.”
Phosphorus flowing into the bay causes fish kills, toxic algae blooms and an annual dead zone. “I felt it was important to bring the stakeholders together, and see if we could maybe stop pointing fingers at each other, and start pointing fingers at solutions,” Rep. Ribble said about the April 1 event he’s hosting.
Citing a rash of contaminated wells, the groups point to manure from animal agriculture as the leading risk to the region’s drinking water supplies and therefore the health of residents — and say state and local authorities have not done enough.
Two new studies of private well water in Kewaunee County have linked contamination to fertilizer, livestock manure and human waste. “In these shallow bedrock areas, what you put on the surface, you will end up drinking eventually,” county conservationist Andy Wallander said.
The greenhouse and its veggies are one example of a new cottage industry popping up across the country to capitalize on the waste energy, methane gas and the nutrient-rich solids that are emitted from a digester.
Since 2001, manure digesters have been popping up across the state. Wisconsin now has 34, the most in the nation, with two more scheduled to begin operating by 2015. In all these digesters, bacteria eat biomass like manure, food scraps or whey and emit energy in the form of methane gas.
Life for Wisconsin families has been disrupted by the relatively rare practice in Wisconsin of using water irrigation systems to spray liquid manure on farm fields. Now the issue has taken on new urgency as more large dairy farms consider using the practice.
Six leading researchers at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health are warning northeastern Wisconsin rural residents that over-application of manure at intensive livestock operations could cause them a host of health problems and damage the environment.