Wisconsin’s proposal to protect bees and butterflies does not do enough to discourage use of the types of pesticides tied to bee die-offs, critics say.
Agriculture creates most of the nitrate pollution, but consumers pay most of the cost, whether they drink from public wells or private ones.
Nitrate is a compound naturally found in plants and in vegetables and can be found in groundwater, depending on how much fertilizer and manure is applied to fields.
In the early 1990s, Jim Goodman and his wife began to worry about how the chemicals they were using on the farm might affect their children. The fourth-generation Wisconsin farmer decided to make the shift away from conventional farming at his Sauk County operation. Now certified organic, the farm includes 120 head of cattle on pasture, including 45 milk cows, and 300 acres of crops.
Levels of nitrate, one of the Wisconsin’s top drinking water contaminants, are increasing. Nitrate comes primarily from fertilizers, including manure, and puts infants and expectant mothers particularly at risk. A projected 94,000 households are drinking private well water with unsafe levels of nitrate. And many of them don’t even know it since few private well owners conduct regular testing.
We’ve transformed our reporting on problems with Wisconsin’s water quality and supply into sculptures that you can see and touch — including a life-size half cow and 1,000 balls of wool. Meet the artist and the reporters and learn about Wisconsin water in this series of events across the state April 30 through May 7.
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.
An administrative law judge says “massive regulatory failure” led to groundwater contamination in a dairy farming region and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources must use its powers to prevent further pollution.
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 weeks ago, Administrative Law Judge Jeffrey Boldt approved the state Department of Natural Resources’ issuance of permits for a large and controversial dairy farm in Central Wisconsin. But he also reduced the amount of water the farm could pump from proposed high-capacity wells and required the DNR to consider the impact of the withdrawals in conjunction with other, nearby wells — a concept known as cumulative impacts.
A proposal to ban waste spreading in winter and early spring on fields with shallow soil is facing opposition from powerful agricultural interests and questions about its legality.