During the summer in northeastern Wisconsin, the alfalfa will tell you where the karst features are. Cracks in the bedrock retain more moisture, and that's where the plants are greenest. Those cracks are also what makes groundwater vulnerable — water may not have time to filter on its way down to the aquifer. Door County Soil and Water Conservation Department
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All 20 Kewaunee County Board members on Tuesday approved a public health and groundwater protection ordinance limiting winter and early spring waste spreading on thin soils over karst bedrock.

The measure passed despite opposition from the Dairy Business Association and other major Wisconsin agricultural groups that called it illegal.

The Center previously reported on the ordinance, which is intended to keep waste — including manure, plus industrial and human waste — from contaminating groundwater in particularly vulnerable areas.

The earlier story: Bad wells spur Kewaunee County to mull waste spreading restrictions.

When soils are thin, they are less likely to effectively filter surface water heading down to the aquifers. Winter, when most groundwater is recharged by rainfall or surface waters, is the riskiest period. Thirty percent of the county’s wells have tested unsafe for bacteria or nitrates, with higher percentages in the towns that have the thinnest soils.

The DBA was joined in opposition by the Midwest Food Processors Association, the Wisconsin Pork Association, the Wisconsin Cattlemen’s Association, the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, the Wisconsin Soybean Association, the Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association.

In a Sept. 18 letter, the agricultural groups said the county did not have the authority to pass the ordinance and said it should have been submitted to the state for approval. And they said the ordinance was unnecessary because the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources already regulates groundwater pollution.

The ordinance is now set to undergo a series of town referendums in the spring. It will be administered only in those towns where a majority of voters approve it. The towns with the most shallow soils are Lincoln, Luxemburg, Casco and Red River, according to Kewaunee County conservationist Andy Wallander.

The nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (www.WisconsinWatch.org) collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.

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Kate Golden, multimedia director and reporter, specializes in environmental stories and data visualizations.