Wisconsin Farm Bureau opposes karst legislation

Wisconsin Senate Bill 632 was recently introduced by state Sen. Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay). It seeks to prohibit or limit the application of sludge, manure or bio-solids on certain Wisconsin landscapes with less than 50 feet of soil to carbonate bedrock. A portion of northeast Wisconsin with relatively shallow soils is often referred to as a ‘karst" area. However, geological maps show that much more of the state would come under the jurisdiction of this bill.

When Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation lobbyist Paul Zimmerman submitted comments in opposition at the Senate Committee on the Environment's April 1 executive session on the bill, he said it circumvents Wisconsin's existing program for nonpoint pollution.

"Wisconsin farmers are already required to apply the nutrients found in livestock manure according to a host of regulations, best management practices and technical standards adopted by the Natural Resource Conservations Service, Department of Natural Resources, and Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection," read the Farm Bureau memo to lawmakers.

Under the NR 151 rule, the DNR already has the authority to correct the problems that SB 632 seeks to fix on its own. Specifically, the Targeted Resource Management Program gives the DNR the ability to address individual water quality problems with more restrictive measures in those areas. Farm Bureau also noted that SB 632 was introduced just as the DNR completed a series of statewide public hearings on updates to the NR 151 rule.

"As drafted, this bill appears to impose a ban on all land spreading of livestock manure on areas identified with less than 50 feet of soil to bedrock," said Zimmerman. "Certainly there are times of the year when certain types of manure should not be applied on certain fields in order to minimize the risk of nonpoint runoff. However, these issues are either addressed by current rules and regulations, or should be reviewed within the current nonpoint program update."

Zimmerman also noted the real-world implications of the ‘Covered County" provision within the bill are brought to life by maps that show soil depths across the state. In addition to Door, Kewaunee, Brown, Calumet and Manitowoc counties, many other areas, including a large swath of southwest Wisconsin also contain what is referred to as a karst area.

"Some landowners could seek additional tests to confirm that their soils are deeper than that 50-foot threshold, but until that could happen, these landowners are basically guilty until proven innocent," he said.

Farm Bureau also asked lawmakers to review how SB 632 impacts other state laws and programs such as the newly adopted Working Lands Program, the Livestock Siting Law, Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (WPDES) permits and county manure storage permits.

"Near the end of session is not the time to introduce and try to pass such a comprehensive piece of legislation with numerous unknown consequences," Zimmerman added.

Despite these concerns the Senate Committee on the Environment passed SB 632 by a 3-2 margin on Thursday. It now awaits action by the full Wisconsin Senate.

Source: Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation