What if your neighbor poured toxic chemicals into your drinking water but only agreed to pay for part of the cleanup?
You probably wouldn’t be happy.
Well, that’s exactly what’s happening in northeastern Wisconsin. A farm group, called Peninsula Pride Farms, recently admitted to being responsible for E. coli, a toxic bacteria, in drinking water. Yet, it’s only prepared to pay for part of the cleanup or provide bottled water for residents with poisoned wells for a few months.
About 30 percent of the wells tested in Kewaunee County, Wis. were found to have unsafe levels of toxins, such as E. coli and nitrates, caused mainly by animal waste run-off from neighboring dairy factory farms.
The announcement by the farm group, made up of 35 dairy operations, comes after residents in the Kewaunee County filed lawsuits against Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources to force it to set stricter standards on farm pollution. Residents in the county are upset about the poor quality of local rivers, lakes and streams.
Many water bodies in the area are listed on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Impaired Waters list, indicating they are too polluted for fishing, swimming and drinking. Major sources of pollutants are manure and fertilizers from the high density of farms and concentrated animal feeding operations in the area.
Residents are also worried about the health effects of pollutants in the water coming out of their taps.
A number of farm pollutants have serious health concerns. Bacteria such as E. coli, which comes from cow manure, can cause bloody diarrhea, stomach cramps, fever and vomiting. The bacteria can also cause respiratory illnesses, pneumonia and urinary tract infections.
And drinking water high in nitrates, another pollutant from manure and fertilizers, could double a person’s chances of getting bladder, thyroid and ovarian cancer.
While the farm group agreed to pay for part of the cleanup, the pollution from their farms continues to go unregulated. Residents in Kewaunee County want assurance that the water coming out of their taps is safe to drink. Instead, they’re being offered a Band-Aid when their kids are already sick.
In addition to helping remediate already polluted drinking water, farmers should be required to do at least the bare minimum to protect waters from pollution in the first place.
Some farmers are doing the right thing by using low-cost conservation techniques such as fertilizer management and grassy buffer strips to prevent run-off, but most aren’t. And if Congress decides to cut conservation funding that rewards farmers for doing the right thing, we can only expect more poisoned wells in our future.