Have We Made Progress Protecting the Environment as Agriculture Grows?

A July 19, 2018 presentation summary by Hanna Edelglass

Have We Made Progress Protecting the Environment as Agriculture Grows?

Jerry Halverson, from the Manitowoc Co. Soil and Water Conservation Department and Scott Gunderson, of the Manitowoc Co. UW Extension, presented how we can be ‘Working Together to Improve and Protect our Natural Resources to Enhance the Quality of Life for Present and Future Generations’, as part of the bimonthly Manitowoc County Lakes Association meetings at the Manitowoc County Office Complex on July 19, 2018.

The two presenters stated that 61% of the Manitowoc County land base is used to produce agriculture products. Agriculture generates water threatening pollution through three main sources; sediment from soil erosion, nutrient enrichment (primarily phosphorus), and animal manure and wastewater, including leachate from silage bunkers. Manitowoc County has many beautiful lakes used for recreation and for fish and wildlife habitat. Strategies being implemented to improve and protect our natural resources, including lakes, while maintaining the future of farming as agriculture continues to grow and prosper in the county were addressed in the discussion.  In dairy farming, while use of acreage and the number of cows has declined in the state, the number of cows continues to grow in Manitowoc County.

Halverson and Gunderson showed the changes from past practices in farming, with images of farmers doing manual work and comparing them with today’s mechanized methods and robotic milking. Every cow’s milk production has tripled and total milk production has doubled in the past 60 years. When asking the question of consequences of these modern changes, the two presented pictures of previous practices showing extensive erosion, threats to water resources by sediment, nutrient, manure and wastewater runoff. Practices being promoted and implemented to counter that set of problems include no-till sowing, cover crops, manure injection, and timing of applications to avoid nutrient runoff.

Manitowoc County has 927 miles of streams and rivers, with more than half of them in poor condition. They, and our 109 lakes, plus Lake Michigan, must be protected from phosphorus and e-coli runoff. To various degrees from mild to severe, many of our lakes here have evidence of phosphorus contamination. For details for each lake check out the powerpoint presentation in the Manitowoc County Lakes Association website.

What to do? Common sense tells us to protect groundwater, lakes and streams. Our goal is to reduce the amount of pollutants entering surface water by developing a base for a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) of pollutants. (A Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) is a regulatory term in the U.S. Clean Water Act, describing a plan for restoring impaired waters that identifies the maximum amount of a pollutant that a body of water can receive while still meeting water quality standards.) A 10-Year Land and Water Resource Management Plan states the need to decrease phosphorus levels by 10% in all inland lakes with average phosphorus levels above 24ppb.  Already, since 2012, stream buffers, contour strips, cover crops, no-till farming, tiling, etc., showed that installed ‘Best Management Practices’ made a difference as we continue to work together moving forward.  As an example, a letter sent in 2012 by Joe Salm to all landowners in the Carstens Lake watershed offered to work with Soil & Water Dept. staff to develop a plan to reduce soil loss and nutrient runoff resulted in the relocation of field tile to limit non-point source pollution entering the Lake’s waters.  In 2018, a grant for implementation of further mitigation practices was promoted by concerned citizens and approved by the DNR. That work is ongoing.

In the spirit of working together, getting information, and to experience advances in food production, you can visit the Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center Common Ground in Newton.  Also, if you come to the Manitowoc County Fair, the Soil and Water Conservation Department and Home and Community Education volunteers will be screening well water for nitrates for free.  Bring 1/2 cup of water in a clean bottle. The booth will be located in the merchants building. There will also be a mini photo booth where kids can dress up like the famous character from Dr. Seuss’s “The Lorax”.  They will be able to use props to help show their appreciation for nature!

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing’s going to get better, it’s not!”

~~~ Dr. Seuss~~~

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Updated: December 28, 2020 — 8:12 am

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