Manure spread on a frozen field is blamed for killing dozens of brown trout in a southern Wisconsin stream, just months after the federal government removed the river from its list of impaired waters.
MADISON, Wis. Manure spread on a frozen field is blamed for killing dozens of brown trout in a southern Wisconsin stream, just months after the federal government removed the river from its list of impaired waters.
Environmental groups and volunteers spent hundreds of hours turning the shallow, muddy West Branch of the Sugar River into prime trout habitat, with the help of more than $900,000 in state and federal grants.
The stream was damaged after a farmer spread liquid cow manure on an icy field, just weeks before public hearings start on proposed new rules that would streamline the process for expanding livestock farms in the state.
A thaw Friday sent the waste running into the stream, said Michael Sorge, a water resources specialist with the state Department of Natural Resources. He said the trout were killed by ammonia from the manure.
Workers with the DNR had recovered more than 100 dead trout, some as long as 19 inches.
The stream, near Mount Horeb in Dane County, had been removed last October from the federal list of impaired waters.
DNR spokesman Greg Matthews said the agency won't know the full extent of the damage for some time.
"We did want to alert the public, however, that the stretch of water that came off the degraded list could go back on the list," he said.
DNR fish biologist Kurt Welke said many other dead fish remain on the stream bottom or stuck under the banks. He added much of the manure is still on the frozen ground and could flow toward the stream with another thaw.
"If there is a gradual warm-up in temperature, then there may be a chronic but lesser amount of manure discharging to the river," he said. "A quick jump in temperature may spell trouble in that a major slug could impact the river."
Over the weekend, workers built earthen berms in the field to hold back the manure. Sorge said heavy construction equipment was used Monday to break through the frozen surface of the field and allow the manure to soak into the soil.
"One landowner making a poor decision may have undone 30 years of work in this watershed," said Frank Fetter, executive director of the Upper Sugar River Watershed Association.
According to DNR conservation warden David Wood, the farmer, whose name was not released, may have violated a law against polluting waterways. He said a violator would be subject to a fine of about $430 and restitution costs of about $26 per trout.
Welke said the farmer was cooperating in the cleanup and was among landowners who worked on the efforts to restore the stream.
He said the spill should focus attention on the problem of farmers spreading manure on frozen ground -- a legal practice that nonetheless is an environmental problem.
"It seems to me that it's time to have a frank discussion between the agricultural community and the regulatory community about certain practices that have long been viewed as normal," he said. "We cannot winter-spread manure."
He suggested that alternatives be developed, such as providing a regional manure digester for farmers to use in winter.
"I would certainly hope that the high profile of this raises the eyebrows of my administrators and also of the legislative community," Welke said.
State agriculture officials have scheduled hearings in six cities this month -- starting with a hearing March 14 in Jefferson -- on proposed rules implementing a new law on expansion of livestock farms and management of manure.
The proposed rules would affect farms with 500 or more "animal units," or about 350 or more milk cows or the equivalent.
The rules "will provide producers with greater predictability when they're making decisions about modernizing dairy operations," said Rod Nilsestuen, state agriculture secretary.
But Midwest Environmental Advocates Inc., a nonprofit environmental law center in Madison, opposes the proposed rules as unfairly restricting local control over farm expansions.
Source: Associated Press