This is a statement I presented to the Kewaunee County Board of Supervisors at the November 18th board meeting.
How many members of this board want clean groundwater in our county? I’d like to see a show of hands.
It goes without saying if you want clean groundwater, it is also very likely that you are concerned about the aquifer being polluted and the possibility of even having your own well polluted. I believe that if you surveyed the county, you would find 100% of the people of the same opinion.
As we all have a tendency to do, we let the people who yell the loudest kidnap a cause that affects us all, causes we should have a say in, but as we have seen on a national level with the likes of Al Sharpton and many others, their agenda is not to bring real solutions to the table and participate in a healthy debate but to exasperate the problem for their own self-interest and demonize those actually trying to solve the problem.
So, my question to this board is “why are we allowing a small group of activists in the county to overshadow OUR agenda and the critical urgency surrounding this issue?” Should we allow this group to speak on our behalf on the issue of clean water? Granted, this group has assisted in bringing the issue to the forefront, but at what cost to the county? We certainly welcome all who have both ideas and concerns but this issue is not theirs – it is ours and we need to remember that and lead accordingly. This board represents all the citizens in Kewaunee and we collectively owe our constituents results – results based on an honest evaluation of the facts, a clear assessment of all the options and most importantly a plan to execute and actually solve the problem. Only working together can we accomplish this goal?
This group’s agenda reaches far beyond the desire for clean water and their inflammatory rhetoric reflects that. When people from this group speak, their communications are often times sensational and without the basis of fact. And equally troubling, their contentions and far-flung possibilities are often so remote that they skew both reality and science, creating unwarranted fear. For example the MRSA/Anthrax scare tactics and information put forth on a billboard south of Algoma. Aside from the fact that it is disappointing to see this group funding billboards that negatively impacts our tourism, county visitation and our image in general, these billboards are only meant to discourage meaningful debate to solve the problem, incite fear and sensationalize a misplaced agenda.
The same folks who are funding this billboard as well as various websites have shown they are not interested in solutions to the problem we all know exists. Have you ever heard of any workable solutions coming from this group? I haven’t.
What I hear from this group is the same mantra -- CAFOs are the problem - Large Industrial Farms are the bad - impose moratoriums on CAFO growth - curb the growth of the dairy industry in our county - the only good farms are small organic farms – oh and we also hear the continual drumbeat of threatened lawsuits and petitions all too often, emanating from this group.
Oh, yes, let’s not forget about the personal attacks on Farm owners, Board Members, Committee members. Do any of you see any real solutions in any of those words or actions that seem to continually put our county in a bad promotional light? I don’t.
I have a suggestion – no a challenge for this group….help this board find a solution! Stop the personal attacks and stop the negative advertising. Roll up your sleeves and join us - help this board project a new forward-looking image for this county. Oh, yes, and one more thing…. TAKE DOWN THOSE BILLBOARDS THAT ARE HURTING OUR COUNTY!
This board is engaged in trying to find real sustainable and economically viable solutions for all our residents. In collaboration with the County Conservationist and the Land and Water Committee, this board unanimously passed a Groundwater Health Ordinance that will restrict the application of manure on certain soil to bedrock land in our county for winter months. Will the passage and implementation of that ordinance alone resolve all our groundwater issues? The answer is certainly no, but we are sure it will have a positive impact. It is a step in the right direction that has support across the county.
We have members of this board who are already working with our legislative representatives, DNR and DATCP to have the State assist us in finding solutions to our problem - and they are listening. By the way, the DNR has a trust deficit with many in this county that needs to be rebuilt. Be that as it may, they realize our ground water quality problem is not restricted to Kewaunee County. It was confirmed to me last Friday by Mr. Russ Rasmussen, the Administrator of the Water Division of the DNR that they are currently forming a work group that will soon be collaborating with Kewaunee County and our residents to help us solve our water quality problem. They have been listening to us and realize the concept of one-size fits all model does not work. The complexities of our problem – as acute as they are - are mirrored in other counties across our State and if we are able to solve the problem in Kewaunee, our resolution could be used in other counties that are experiencing similar issues with their ground water.
Kewaunee has 215 dairies with approximately 80,000 cows, generating over 2 million gallons of manure each and every day - which represents thousands of manure truck trips on our County roads each year. So what are our options? It seems to be the general consensus that the only long-term and sustainable solution to resolving our ground water issue is to treat a large percentage of the manure before it is spread on the fields – in fact before it leaves the farm. Treat the manure on the farm, convert the organics into as much renewable energy as possible for farm use or sale, kill the bacterium, extract a large percentage of the water in a form and quality that can safely be irrigated back to the fields or repurposed on the farm and finally, store the remaining nutrients so they can be delivered to the fields when the crops need it.
Interestingly, there are a number of companies that are moving quickly to provide these types of treatment solutions to dairy operators in Wisconsin which are both affordable, highly efficient and commercially viable. Compared to traditional large scale anaerobic digestion/nutrient management systems which come in around $5000-$7000 per cow, require grants and/or subsidies and are just not scaleable down to the smaller dairies, these new systems are now in the range of $1000-$2000 per cow, have compelling performance metrics and and can be installed at virtually any size dairy.
As a result of these technology advancements, I believe there are some new and exciting opportunities for Kewaunee County to not only address our own groundwater quality issues but to help our important diary industry thrive and grow in an environmentally and economically sustainable way. And finally, I believe we have the opportunity to demonstrate real leadership and innovation in the State and become a model for other counties with similar issues.
So - we have a big job ahead of us. In the summer of 2017, Kewaunee County will be hosting Farm Technology Days – 2 ½ years. Prior to that event, we have allot of work ahead of us to repair our image, an image that has been tarnished by too much negative press.
So what does our board need to do to present a more balanced communication to protect and enhance our counties reputation?
· We have to take the lead in communicating a clear and positive message about our county and the fact that we have a strategy to address the issues we are facing – “we are on the offence – not defense”
· To that point, the county must frequently develop and distribute press releases that accentuate the positives issues happening in Kewaunee County.
· We must form a “Kewaunee County clean water task force” that will be tasked to partner with the private sector, the DNR/DATCP task force and legislators to implement our strategy. This task force would be comprised of board members, Soil Conservation staff, Land and Water Committee members and the private sector.
· This board needs to oversee the process to ensure that we are implementing our strategy and providing dairy operators and other stakeholders with the support they need as we move forward with the implementation of manure treatment technology in Kewaunee County well before the summer of 2017
· Work hard with our townships to ensure we do not drop the ball on implementing the new ground water ordinance we’ve already passed.
With support from DNR, DATCP, our legislators and others, we have an opportunity to begin to take a new approach - a public/private partnership if you will, deploying a new distributed manure management model across the county with incentives to encourage our dairy operators to participate with us. It is time for us to be bold in our thinking and demonstrate the vision and leadership that our residents expect and deserve. We cannot keep kicking this can down the road for future generations. It is time to stop the infighting and denigrating and roll up our sleeves together to develop a clear, viable and long-term strategy that is technically and economically sound and get to the business of solving this issue.
Speaking for the board, I hope you will all join us – we have much to do.