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In a Major Victory Court Rules that DNR Failed to Consider “Cumulative Effects” of
High-Capacity Well Pumping in the Central Sands Area 

DNR’s violation of the Wisconsin Environmental Policy Act means the agency must reconsider whether an Environmental Impact Statement is needed for the proposed Richfield Dairy 

Coloma--The Wisconsin Court of Appeals ruled today 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 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, WI 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.” 

“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,” said Christa Westerberg, attorney representing the Friends of the Central Sands and Family Farm Defenders.  “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.

Update November 2013:

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The second week of our administrative hearing is now finished. That week was focused was on waste spreading and ground water contamination.  Our goal is to see that the spreading of CAFO waste is tightly managed to prevent runoff and that our groundwater is monitored by the placement of effective monitoring wells to ensure public health and healthy waters.  You may recall that we brought three challenges against the Richfield CAFO;  1)The high capacity wells and their impact on Pleasant Lake along with the headwaters of 4 trout streams; Chaffee, Tagatz, Fordham and Little Roche a Cri, 2) The WPDES permit and spreading of CAFO waste and 3) The plans and specifications (construction) of the CAFO facility including better leak barriers and leak detection. We convene once again for week three in mid-December.

We heard over and over again how we the people should trust the CAFO owners and the DNR.  Unfortunately, they have shown us that we cannot trust them and our expert witnesses had no problem pointing out their deficiencies.

But there is some good news in all of this.  The judge remains very attentive and engaged in the process.  He was able to hear our concerns about how the regulations (or the way they are interpreted) are not protecting our waters or the public interest.  We heard many of our expert witnesses disagree with the findings of the DNR and the dairy about the construction requirements of the site and potential problems with pollutants leaking to surface and ground water.  Testimony was also given on the impact of the waste spreading and ways to ensure that public water is protected.   And we recently learned that the high pressure gas line that runs through the property, one over which we voiced significant concern, will be moved. 

While the hearings took place FOCS members decided to make a difference on the ground.  The week of the hearing a FOCS team went down the Mecan River cleaning up garbage along the way.  Another team conducted monitoring of Tagatz Creek as a part of the River Keepers program of Trout Unlimited.  A photo tour of neighboring lakes affected by excessive ground water pumping was also conducted including nearby Long Lake, Pine Lake, Fish Lake and Lake Huron.  If you don’t believe that there is a problem check out the photos and other important updates at  This tour provided a stark reminder as to why this fight is so important.


Friends of the Central Sands Releases New Documentary:

Not Standing Still: The Degradation of Wisconsin's Waters


Water Reality a huge success!  Read more here

Factory farms affect us all!

Jobs  •  Local Economy  •  Property Values
Water Quality  •  Water Levels  •  Air Quality

** Silage Leachate at Traditions Dairy

We need your help to continue our legal fight to stop the Richfield CAFO!  All donations are tax deductible.

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