Victory for Clean Water Protections in Wisconsin!

Close-up of a gavel

Court Rejects CAFO Lobby’s Attempt to Eliminate Oversight of Wisconsin’s Largest Livestock Operations

Today a Calumet County Circuit Court Judge ruled against Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce in a lawsuit filed on behalf of Wisconsin Dairy Alliance (WDA) and Venture Dairy Co-Op, lobbying groups for some of the state’s largest dairies. The suit threatened to undermine a critical state water protection program that helps keep untreated animal waste out of Wisconsin’s waterways and drinking water.

The lawsuit, filed against the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) last May, targeted Wisconsin’s water pollution permitting program. The program allows the DNR to oversee the way concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) manage animal waste and discharge it into the environment.

“The Calumet County Circuit Court agreed with Clean Wisconsin and the Department that DNR has clear authority to require all large CAFOs to have water pollution control permits and dismissed this misguided lawsuit,” said Clean Wisconsin attorney Evan Feinauer. “This ruling is critical because it preserves the DNR’s ability to address water pollution that can be caused by these facilities, at a time when many surface and groundwaters around the state are contaminated with animal waste.”

Contamination from animal waste is one of the biggest threats to clean, safe water in Wisconsin. Clean Wisconsin along with Wisconsin Farmers Union, represented by Midwest Environmental Advocates, intervened in the suit in September to protect our state’s waterways and the health and wellbeing of rural Wisconsin communities. Animal waste can contaminate waterways and drinking water with nitrates, phosphorus, and pathogens, including bacteria, parasites and viruses.

“These large operations can produce as much waste as a small city, and the state must be able to monitor and control how, where, and in what quantities manure is stored and spread on the landscape. That’s why for nearly 40 years, the DNR has required large CAFOs to have permits to limit this dangerous pollution. Allowing large dairies to sidestep oversight would have been catastrophic for water protection in our state,” said Feinauer.

“Today was a big day for everyone who supports right-sized regulation of livestock agriculture,” says Clean Wisconsin Water and Agriculture Program Director Sara Walling. “This win in Calumet Circuit Court protects the department’s ability to oversee the actions and growth of our state’s largest livestock farms and the manure they produce.”

The DNR permitting program helps Wisconsin dairies implement practices to reduce animal waste pollution and manure runoff from their operations. Many dairies around the state are implementing those practices.

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