Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Kewaunee County Groundwater Update

It has been some time since I have sent an update as to the happenings in Kewaunee County with relation to county government.  I will admit, being the chairman of the board has taken a lot of my time, but I do feel good about the direction the county is headed.  This update will deal only with the groundwater developments.

Kewaunee County Board
I am happy to report that your new board of supervisors is hard at work to change the course of the county.  It is indeed refreshing to go to committee meetings and hear the committee members ask good questions, having meaningful dialogue and taking actions on issues rather than kicking the can down the road.  Your involvement as concerned citizens have caused the changes on the board.  Government can work (although slower than I’d like), if citizens get involved.

Kewaunee County Public Health and Groundwater Protection Ordinance #173-9-14
For some time in our county, we have been experiencing groundwater problems with an inordinate number of wells being polluted.  For example, in May of 2014, 556 different wells throughout Kewaunee County were tested and we found 29.7% of these wells were not safe for human consumption due to presence of coliform bacteria and/or nitrates above the human health standard of 10 parts per million.

These kind of results are indeed worrisome as if allowed to continue will have injurious impact on land values in our area and will negatively impact tourism and general growth in the county.  We already have billboards being sponsored by some unnamed folks that are harming the county’s tourism growth.

Your board faced this problem head-on starting out with meetings with DNR and DATCP officials in Madison.  At that meeting, both the Secretary of DATCP and the Secretary of DRN committed to helping Kewaunee County begin to solve this problem.  Those agencies did not have any funds for us as they could not treat one county differently than another county.  So, the land and water committee, along with a lot of hard work by Andy Wallander, crafted and passed a new Public Health and Groundwater ordinance through to the full board.  Following the first reading of that ordinance and a well-attended public hearing, the final ordinance went to the full board for passage on Sep 23rd.  It passed with all board members voting in favor of the ordinance. 

Next steps in implementing the ordinance in the county will be; each township has to have a referendum on their ballots in the spring election period.  If the individual townships adopt the ordinance, in Jan 2016 the actual implementation of the ordinance would occur.  Basically the ordinance changes the way manure is applied to certain Karst featured land in our county.  A very short explanation of the ordinance is; no manure (liquid or otherwise) will be allowed to be applied on soil that is less than 20 feet to bedrock for the period of Jan 1 – Apr 15. 

So what is the long-term fix for our Groundwater Problems?
First we have to recognize, Agriculture has been, and will be, the major business of our county.  Dairy and beef operations will continue to grow in herd size.  We will not see a rebirth of small farms, for that is not a realistic expectation.  We have a very large number of cows in our county, and on a daily basis, they produce millions of gallons of manure.

Several decades ago, DATCP encouraged farmers to build manure pits for storage rather than stacking manure.  To efficiently handle getting the manure to the pits, barns were washed down with a whole lot of water, which in the end, only increases the number of gallons of manure that are produced on a daily basis.  Now that manure has to be hauled from the pits, transported from the farms to fields that are sometimes miles from the originating farm and sometimes in adjacent counties. 

Farmers in Kewaunee County have nutrient management plans and follow those plans closely as they apply their liquid manure.  It is difficult, however, to apply the nutrients in liquid manure scientifically.  Although the manure is tested at the pit for nutrient content, the application on the fields is broadcast.  Let me try to explain this.  Technology has existed for some time that provides farmers GPS coordinates for each type of nutrient required for a specific spot on a field.  When applying granulated fertilizer, this can be accomplished.  However, when applying liquid manure this cannot be done.  Therefore, if a farmer is spreading the required amount of potassium, it could be the nitrogen and phosphate levels might be too high.  By the way, it seems nitrates are one of the biggest problems with the wells that are polluted in Kewaunee County.

Recently, I was fortunate enough to take a day trip to Lansing Michigan to Michigan State University to view some of the latest technology for treating large volumes of manure.  These systems provide processing for organic waste treatment.  We visited both Digested Organics and McLanahan facilities while in Lansing.  Both of these companies along with a company called Bioferm are working hard to introduce systems that provide the solution for farmers to treat their manure and to separate the nutrients from the vast number of gallons of water.

The following companies will be displaying their systems at the World Dairy Expo being held in Madison this week.  Each has their own strengths and weaknesses when dealing with the large volume of material coming off farms now days.

Digested Organics (DO) (www.digestedorganics.com) is an organic waste treatment solutions company that has been very active in WI and specifically in Kewaunee County. They offer modular, scalable systems to the Ag community that can process both raw manure and digestate with efficiency.   They are able to process manure from dairies with 100 to 5000 head, our treatment systems reduce COD (Chemical Oxygen Demand) by 99%+ - compared to an industry average of 55% and generate 80%+ methane rich biogas for both electric and thermal demand.  DO technology is currently being used on organic wastes/sludge's in Europe with over 250 systems in operation. 

DO’s distributed/modular systems are designed for smaller farms that traditionally have not had a right sized - cost effective solution to address their manure management issues.  DO and its partners also provide back-end systems to generate renewable power, as well as separate and capture nutrients.  DO's treatment system also generates reusable water - suitable for irrigation, flushing or other barn use.

DO's Midwest livestock waste commercial demonstration system is located just minutes from the World Dairy Expo in Madison at the Wagner Dairy Farm in Middleton. They are scheduling tours for interested parties during the Expo. Please contact Chris Maloney at chris.maloney@digestedorganics.com to arrange a visit/demo. 

McLanahan (www.mclanahan.com) is another company that is working in this space.  In Michigan we visited a farm where they were wet vacuuming up manure from 200 cows and treating that manure each day.  At the end of the process was reusable/irrigatable water and segregated dried caked material that contained the nutrient value (nitrogen/phosphates/potassium) of the manure.  That caked material could be further dried and could be pelletized as a slow release solid fertilizer. 
Bioferm, www.biofermenergy.com  is another company that has developed anaerobic digesters for various farm size types. 
So where do we go next?
As a County Board, we need to communicate openly with our local farmers, Ag industry officials and affiliates to better understand how we, as local government officials can better assist each type of farming operation.  We will have to work with the DNR, DATCP and the State Legislature to ensure they are aware of the local developments and are considering all options.  Specifically, the types of systems any farm or farms would need to process manure are costly and we could work with State Government to explore financing for these systems.
Perhaps we will determine several smaller community digesters make more sense in the long run.  These could even be run as cooperatives.  We don’t have all the answers at this point, for sure, but with time we will find the right answers.