Con­cerns about high-ca­pac­ity wells and pol­lu­tion prompt cen­tral Wis­con­sin res­i­dents into ac­tion

Wisconsin Gazette - - Front Page - By Vir­ginia Small Con­tribut­ing writer

Pleas­ant Lake in Waushara and Mar­quette coun­ties lives up to its name. The serene 120-acre lake — lo­cated mostly in the town of Coloma about 60 miles west of Oshkosh — is ideal for swim­ming, fish­ing, boat­ing and other sim­ple plea­sures. For more than a cen­tury, full-time and sea­sonal res­i­dents and tourists have en­joyed the cen­tral Wis­con­sin lake, which can be ac­cessed from public boat land­ings.

How­ever, the is­suance in 2016 of two per­mits by the Wis­con­sin Depart­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources — for a high-ca­pac­ity well on a nearby farm and a new dairy farm — posed im­mi­nent threats to the lake’s wa­ter level and even the lake it­self. That’s why own­ers of lake­side and other nearby prop­er­ties de­cided to pur­chase and con­serve the 105-acre Bula Farm to pro­tect Pleas­ant Lake and its water­shed lands — and to chal­lenge the DNR per­mits in court.

The most-re­cent owner of the Bula Farm pur­chased the prop­erty in 2015 and ob­tained a per­mit in 2016 from the DNR to in­stall a high-ca­pac­ity well for ir­ri­gat­ing the land.

In light of that, res­i­dents de­ter­mined they should buy the Bula Farm to dee­drestrict the prop­erty to pre­vent any fu­ture high-ca­pac­ity well in­stal­la­tion and to stop ma­nure spread­ing on the prop­erty now and in the fu­ture.

Pleas­ant Lake has a max­i­mum depth of 24 feet. Re­search in­di­cated that a high­ca­pac­ity well could draw down the lake by at least 4 feet from that well alone.

In May 2017, Pleas­ant Lake Man­age­ment District mem­bers voted to pur­chase the land for $400,000 through a 20-year loan, with the sale com­pleted June 30. A committee was formed to eval­u­ate po­ten­tial fu­ture uses of the prop­erty.

Rose­mary Sch­wantes said she and her hus­band Peter sup­ported the plan to pur­chase the ad­ja­cent 105-acre prop­erty.

“It is the only hope we have for the con­tin­u­a­tion of the lake as we know it,” she said.

The Brook­field cou­ple has owned a va­ca­tion cot­tage across the road from the lake since 1989. Sch­wantes said the lake is 5 feet lower than its high-wa­ter mark when they bought the prop­erty. “So an­other 4-foot or more loss would be very sig­nif­i­cant. Land val­ues go way down if the wa­ter goes down.”


Nearby, the pro­posed Rich­field Dairy has not yet been built, but a re­newed per­mit was is­sued for it in 2016. In that per­mit, the Bula Farm was reg­is­tered as a des­ig­nated re­ceiver of ma­nure from the dairy — an­other con­cern for the res­i­dents.

Ma­nure spread­ing has been found to cause ground­wa­ter and sur­face-wa­ter pol­lu­tion from ni­trates and other con­tam­i­nants of con­cern, es­pe­cially in vul­ner­a­ble ar­eas such as Wis­con­sin’s Cen­tral Sands.

Ac­cord­ing to the Sierra Club’s web­site, “When (con­cen­trated an­i­mal feed­ing op­er­a­tion) wastes are ap­plied to farm fields, wa­ter pol­lu­tion can be caused by over­ap­pli­ca­tion of wastes, di­rect runoff into sur­face wa­ters, or by trav­el­ing through the ground or catch basins into field tiles or drainage ditches that dis­charge di­rectly into sur­face wa­ters. Tests have shown that waste ap­plied to the sur­face of a field can take as lit­tle as 45 min­utes to reach the field tiles 3 to 4 feet be­low the sur­face.”

In ad­di­tion, there’s con­cern about prop­erty val­ues. The Wis­con­sin State Jour­nal re­ported Nov. 16, 2017, that the “Wis­con­sin Depart­ment of Rev­enue has found that homes near large dairy op­er­a­tions have been sell­ing for as much as 13 per­cent be­low their as­sessed value in Ke­waunee County, where odor, noise and wa­ter pol­lu­tion from the sprawl­ing feed­lots have been a big prob­lem.”

PLMD pres­i­dent Tom Kunes said that ei­ther a high-ca­pac­ity well or ma­nure spread­ing “would have de­stroyed nat­u­ral habi­tats and the qual­ity of the lake. That would have been very de­struc­tive.” He said there are also home­own­ers with pri­vate wells next to the farm prop­erty, which would be sus­cep­ti­ble to con­tam­i­na­tion by ni­trates or E. coli bac­te­ria from runoff.


Prop­erty own­ers near Pleas­ant Lake be­gan fo­cus­ing on pro­tect­ing its en­vi­ron­men­tal in­tegrity more than a decade ago.


Fish­ing on Pleas­ant Lake.

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