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Wisconsin Environmental Regulators Settle Wastewater Lawsuit With Large Dairy Farm

By Todd Richmond

One of Wisconsin's largest dairy operations has reached a settlement with state environmental regulators that calls for the company to eventually stop spreading liquid manure in exchange for avoiding groundwater monitoring requirements.

The deal puts an end to a lawsuit that Kinnard Farms filed against the state Department of Natural Resources last year. Court documents show the settlement went into effect Saturday. Kinnard Farms officials said the agreement was reached last month.

The Kinnard operation has struggled with agricultural pollution for years as contaminants seeped into private wells. Kewaunee County has relatively shallow soil that does a poor job filtering water, making the area especially susceptible to groundwater contamination. The county has 17 industrial farms. 

The operation filed a lawsuit in April 2022 after the DNR modified the company's wastewater permit. The revisions called for the operation to limit the size of its herd to 11,369 cows and begin monitoring groundwater in areas contaminated with nitrate from manure spreading. Kinnard Farms officials argued that the business would suffer if they can't expand their herd and groundwater monitoring would cost tens of thousands of dollars.

The settlement doesn't address herd limitations. Kinnard withdrew its challenge to the limitation, but the issue could come up again when Kinnard seeks permit renewal.

"In facilitating this settlement, the DNR deserves credit for recognizing the potential of the technology, the value of providing flexibility within a regulatory framework and the usefulness of collaboration," Kinnard Farms owner Lee Kinnard said in a statement.

DNR spokesperson Katie Grant didn't immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

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