We take our clean drinking water for granted, especially in rural areas. But for residents of Emerald Township in St. Croix County, many think twice before turning on their faucets.
In March 2017, an anonymous tip led authorities to a massive manure spill at Emerald Sky Dairy, a 1,700 head industrial dairy complex, recently purchased by producers from Nebraska. This massive spill was not reported immediately by the owners as required; instead it took over 90 days before the DNR was notified, and only after local authorities confronted the owners.
Two years later, we finally have details. A DNR Open Records Request revealed the spill was 275,000 gallons, filling wetlands and contaminating a storm water pond. The cleanup entailed 3,455 tons of manure solids being removed from wetlands and eight (8) million gallons of contaminated water being spread on area fields. To our knowledge, this is the largest cleanup of its kind in State history.
According to DNR Open Records request, a cluster of homes downstream from the spill reported E.coli contamination in their drinking water shortly after the cleanup was finished. DNR was contacted by these homeowners, but did not do any advanced testing to verify the source of this contamination. One homeowner had tested their well water every year for 20 years and never had a problem with E.coli until June 2017. DNR simply instructed homeowners to bleach their wells and contact them if other issues resurfaced.
This spill occurred in a Rural Residential zoned area with 90 families in a two mile radius; pregnant women, those undergoing cancer treatments, and small children were potential victims of E.coli poisoning.
And to add insult to injury, the penalty paid for such an negligent, egregious act and putting public health at risk......$80,000. Per the Civil Complaint filed last month, potential fines were over $1 million. That is what a good Madison lawyer can do......reduce penalties by 95%!
For those nearby the proposed industrial hog complex in Burnett County.....if you think your government “has your back” and will protect your water – that was not our experience in Emerald. Beware!
Former resident of
Emerald, Wis., for 20 years
Currently in May Township, Minn.