Court rules DNR failed to consider ‘cumulative effects’ of high-capacity well pumping with proposed Richfield Dairy

Staff Report

COLOMA, Wis. — The Wisconsin Court of Appeals ruled Dec. 19 that the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) failed to adequately consider the cumulative effects of high-capacity well pumping in the vicinity of the proposed Richfield Dairy in Adams County, Wisconsin, when it prepared an environmental assessment (EA) in 2011.

The EA was triggered by the dairy’s application for several permits and approvals to construct a massive new concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) in the Central Sands region, including an application for a high-capacity well approval and a wastewater discharge, or “WPDES,” permit.

The case was brought by Friends of the Central Sands and others who are concerned with depleting groundwater resources in the Central Sands region.

Richfield Dairy proposes to install two high-capacity wells at a proposed facility near Coloma, Wis., with a total pumping capacity of approximately 525 million gallons per year. The dairy intends to house 4,300 dairy cows initially, but may be expanded.

We are pleased with the decision of the Court of Appeals,” said Bob Clarke, with Friends of the Central Sands. “DNR’s failure to consider the cumulative effects of high-capacity well pumping in the Central Sands region resulted in poor decision-making with respect to the Richfield Dairy. Now, we hope the DNR will do its job to protect this sensitive area, which is already suffering from excessive groundwater pumping.”

Christa Westerberg, attorney representing the Friends of the Central Sands and Family Farm Defenders, said: “In its flawed EA, the DNR focused on the two Richfield wells alone, avoiding the critically important issue of the effects widespread pumping is having on Wisconsin’s water resources. The decision of the Court of Appeals corrects that flaw, and will prompt the DNR to develop a more thorough understanding of the effects of groundwater withdrawals on this vulnerable landscape, as required by the law and sound science.”

In addition, Friends of the Central Sands is in its third week of hearings this week before the Wisconsin Division of Hearings and Appeals, challenging the DNR’s issuance of a WPDES permit and its approval of the Plans and Specifications, Nutrient Management Plan, and High-Capacity Wells for the proposed Richfield Dairy CAFO.

The Court of Appeals reversed a decision of the Dane County Circuit Court, which had ruled in favor of the DNR in 2012, and remanded the matter to the DNR to consider the “potential cumulative effects” the dairy’s two high-capacity wells may have on the environment. A copy of the court’s decision in Family Farm Defenders, Inc. et al. v. Wis. Dept. of Nat. Res. issued Dec. 19 may be found at

From the Dec. 25-31, 2013, issue

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