Dear Secretary Payne,

Thank you and congratulations on your recent appointment by the Governor as the incoming DNR Secretary for the State of Wisconsin and thank you very much in advance for your time, thoughtful consideration, and actions on the issues raised in this letter.

We have seen many news articles and press releases on your background and passion and commitment to the environment. We are also aware of your work with the Counties of our state and your support for locally-led conservation and environmental protection. From hunting, natural resources and water quality, the taxpayers and voters of Wisconsin welcome your leadership in this important position.

Sustain Rural Wisconsin Network is the grassroots coalition of groups and citizens across the state who are dealing with the issues associated with the consolidation and expansion of the livestock industry across Wisconsin, the proliferation of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), and their impacts on rural Wisconsin watersheds and public health/safety. We are not only aware and engaged in our local community CAFO issues, but are actively convening and coordinating with Socially Responsible Agriculture Project, Midwest Environmental Advocates, Wisconsin Farmers Union, Family Farm Defenders, Trout Unlimited, 350 Wisconsin, Sierra Club, Wisconsin Green Fire, Food and Water Watch, and a host of other organizations with similar concerns at regional and national levels. SRWN is comprised of locally based community groups and citizens who pay taxes in Wisconsin, and we are hopeful that our involvement and the issues to our waters being caused will not be ignored, watered down, overlooked or dismissed by our DNR with you at the helm of the agency.

We welcome a meeting with you and ongoing dialogue to share our stories and history, and to further express our concerns and hopes that in Wisconsin the quality of our water and our environment will no longer be heavily influenced and degraded by the special interests of big agribusiness and the monopolies that control many sectors of the agricultural economy. For some years now, we and a swath of local governments have been urging Wisconsin to take pause and evaluate the impacts of the major changes in agriculture in recent years by implementing a state CAFO moratorium on new and expanding facilities.

Sustain Rural Wisconsin Network, and our coalition of members throughout Wisconsin have been sharing information with each other, documenting issues, and communicating with the DNR and other agencies, but have seen little official action to remedy the issues experienced on the ground. and in our State’s surface waters and groundwater (drinking water). The evidence of this can clearly be seen in the nitrate levels in our groundwater and WDNR TMDLs implemented around the state to address phosphorus loading to our surface waters.

WI Private Well Nitrate Concentrations.png

It is obvious that the collapse of the family farm and the pollution of our waters are a direct result of the expansion of massive concentrations of animals and the manure they produce in Wisconsin. The elephant in the room is that there is too much manure for the Wisconsin landscape to absorb, and it has resulted in polluted wells, polluted streams and impoundments; fish kills, polluted lands, and spills of toxic biohazards into Lake Michigan and Superior.

The well-funded lobbyists of the livestock industry have coalesced into a formidable entity, given the billions of dollars that are being made through expansion, taxpayer subsidies and very weak regulations to protect the land and water in this State. Frankly, the DNR Nutrient Management Plans have not managed nutrients well over these past many years, revealed by the increasing nitrates in our groundwater and phosphorus readings in our soils resulting in “green lakes” by the 4th of July in many parts of Wisconsin. The self-monitoring/self-reporting model has failed rural Wisconsin. DNR/DOJ enforcement has not been timely nor provided the disincentive to pollute our shared resources.

While we understand that lead and PFAS contaminations have become a big issue in this State, and rightfully so, we ask that you not take your eye off the ball when it comes to industrial animal agriculture and liquid manure issues in Wisconsin, the death of the family farm due to industrialized consolidation, and the impact that has had on our water, our land and our public health. When municipalities have the same level of contamination in their drinking water as do rural Wisconsin homeowners, actions are swift and State agencies engaged. However, currently in rural Wisconsin, we are on our own, with few programs, well-testing, or compensation for damages to our drinking water. Even municipalities are being squeezed into reducing the phosphorus from their waste treatment plants, while big agribusiness keeps dumping more and more on the landscape without restraint. The disparity is stark and has become an environmental justice issue. This has been well documented by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

We look to you to be our environmental watchdog and first line of defense when unsustainable proposals come to the table. As many watersheds hit or surpass their phosphorus budget, excessive use of phosphorus is depleting reserves vital to global food production, while also adding to the climate crisis, and resulting in drinking water issues coming to the fore, we hope you will reconsider the DNR policies that have led us to a position where not one CAFO permit application, no matter how sensitive the landscape and drinking water, has ever been denied outright by the DNR.

We sincerely hope that you take our comments to heart, and that we can help you to better understand the issues that folks in rural Wisconsin struggle with on a daily basis. We look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience and sincerely hope this is the beginning of a fruitful dialogue to accomplish our shared goals of fishable/swimmable surface waters and clean/safe groundwater for current and future Wisconsin citizens and communities.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Sustain Rural Wisconsin Network