Have You Heard About the Kewaunee County Water Crisis?

Ian Brzeski | @ianbrzeski

People in Kewaunee County do not have safe drinking water. People are getting sick from the water in their private wells, and there seems to be a lack of concern about the issue from the government due to not enough people caring about the issue. In a country as strong and vibrant as the United States, every single person should have clean and safe drinking water. As CAFOs continue to worsen air and water quality in the county, the citizens still turn to the government to try and fix it. It makes no sense for the people to turn to the government as the government has been attempting to fix the issue for decades.

Air and Water Problems

Kewaunee County is a small county in Wisconsin. It is a rural area with a lot of small farms, but in recent years they have had problems with the expansion of CAFOs or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations. The USDA defines CAFOs as “animal feeding operations (AFO) in which over 1000 animal units are confined for over 45 days a year.” These are some pretty big farms which could hurt the industry of smaller farms nearby as well as contaminate the water and air of nearby residents.

The Problem With CAFOs

The source of the water problems is due to the development of these large CAFOs. Since there are a vast amount of cattle or pigs in such a confined space, there is not necessarily an easy way to handle the manure produced by these animals in the CAFOs. The way they usually have dealt with the issue is by creating some system that stores liquified manure in an outdoor pit and then sprayed onto the fields. As manure is seen to be a natural fertilizer, the CAFO farmers figured they found a reasonable solution to their manure problem. However, they have failed to calculate the risk and cost of these manure storage systems.

The risks and cost that come with these storage systems are the potentials of spillage and leakage. There are examples of this issue occurring elsewhere. In 2005, a manure lagoon at an upstate dairy farm burst, which polluted a nearby river with millions of gallons of manure and killed more than 375,000 fish. Even if there is no spillage or leakage, other means could contaminate the water. These means include the process of liquifying and vaporizing the manure which releases toxins in the air that affect the air and water quality in adverse ways.

Health Concerns

Even if the citizens of Kewaunee decide to get an expensive filtration system, they are still not safe. The air quality from these CAFOs can also bring upon diseases and sicknesses to the workers and nearby residents. The illnesses and problems include but are not limited to:

  • headaches
  • respiratory problems
  • eye irritation
  • nausea
  • weakness
  • chest tightness
  • increased rates of asthma
  • nasal allergies
  • odor annoyance
  • elevated rates of mucous membrane irritation
  • runny noses
  • sore throats
  • excessive coughing
  • diarrhea
  • burning eyes.

People who reside near CAFOs are more likely to experience these illnesses than the average person. They also even have higher rates of depression, anger, and fatigue.

Blame the Government

You may look at these CAFOs as being evil, but in reality, it is not their fault. The CAFOs are trying to make a profit and save the dairy industry in Wisconsin. A graph provided by the US Department of Agriculture and Labor Statistics shows dairy farmers have been under the break-even point for the past four years. This means that farmers are losing money and the industry is in a steep decline. You can’t blame the farmers here for trying to expand and save their jobs and the industry. However, you can blame the government at hand for its ineffectiveness and inefficiencies.

The biggest obstacle that Kewaunee County faces towards cleaner water is not necessarily the CAFOs, but the government. The state and federal levels of government struggle with getting anything done, especially in this situation. It took around ten years for a particular regulatory bill to pass. Water contamination has increased dramatically during those ten years and to make matters worse, the government is not able to adequately enforce these laws. There are some regulations in place such as The Clean Water Act, but the inefficiency of the government in enforcing these regulations and the vagueness of legislation makes the government seem impotent.

What Should Be Done

The best thing to do is for the to get government out of the way, but that is not realistic. Getting the government to remove itself from a situation is virtually impossible. The next logical step would be to try to allocate more power to the local governments. It is more efficient and makes it easier to solve the air and water quality problems.

The people have to demand the federal or state government to give more power to the local government. The federal and state governments are too ineffective to deal with the problems quickly or even at all. The local government hears the complaints of these people and sees the horrid effects of the water with their own eyes.

The local government of Kewaunee County has done its best to try and limit and regulate these CAFOs. Recently, Kewaunee County is able to enforce state standards locally and they are now able to issue fines. These steps taken by Kewaunee County shows how local government is more responsive than the federal government. The local Kewaunee government sees the problems they have and wants to fix them as soon as possible. By pressuring the federal and state governments to allow local governments to fix their problems is when these issues of air and water quality in Kewaunee County will be diminished. Give the power back to the people instead of relying on an inefficient centralized government to get things done.


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