Do you smell that?
That’s Wisconsin dairy-airre.
Wait. That smell is INSIDE my house.
The Shit Hit the Water. Literally.
Living in the Village of Luxemburg
In 2008, I purchased a brand-new spec home that was built in 2006 in the Village of Luxemburg.
All the village amenities. Sewer, water, trash pickup, leaf pickup.
I met the hubs in 2011, and he lived one mile down the road in the country.
I stood outside his home one late night, looked up at the stars, and said “I want to live here someday.”
He was shocked. He figured I had a brand-new house, that he would be the one to move into the village.
I explained to him that I grew up in the country. I love the country.
The first time I took him to the Beloit/Janesville area where I grew up, to Orfordville where I graduated from high school, he understood immediately. I belong in the country.
In November 2012, I sold my home in the Village, and left behind those village amenities, to move to the country.
September, 2011, the very first thing I was told at my very first visit to the hubs’ house in the country – as he handed me a bottle of water – you don’t drink the water here.
No asking “why”, you just don’t. It’s bad. That’s all that was ever said. The water is bad.
He didn’t show me a well inspection report, he didn’t show me a well water inspection report showing E. Coli, and nitrates, and bacteria.
It was just an accepted fact.
The well was installed at the home in 1979. It was 203 feet deep, with a 40-foot casing, as was standard at the time. The water was always mostly clear.
In the fall and springtime, when manure was spread in the past, or even when we had the hard, driving spring rains, we have had sediment/sand and sandy-colored water. We would change the filters, run water through the hose outside, run water inside the house, and flush toilets, and in a day the water would be clear.
However, we never drank the water from our faucets, or refrigerator water dispenser, or cooked with the water, just by the knowledge that the water was contaminated with something.
The water is fine for showers, laundry, and running the dishwasher. But don’t drink with the water. Don’t cook with the water. Fill up a pan of water from the water cooler in the corner of the kitchen, then heat it up on the stove for cooking purposes.
The hubs did mention that even if you boil the water at a certain time of year (spring and fall, after manure spreading), the nitrates in the water actually increase when it is boiled, and are actually worse for you.
So we never drank the water. We never cooked with the water.
The hubs and I were married on March 6, 2013, so his home, became our home.
Our home sits on 1-1/2 acres in the Town of Luxemburg, Kewaunee County, Wisconsin. Our home is surrounded by farm fields, with a few houses in between the farms up and down the road.
The home was originally built sometime in the 1800’s. It burned down in 1926 and was rebuilt on the same foundation in 1927. The house belonged to the hubs’ great-grandparents, so there is a sentimental connection with this home.
The home stood empty for 25 years before the hubs purchased it in 1993. He knew when he bought the home that the water was contaminated. He didn’t have the water tested, he just knew it was contaminated and not to drink it.
The view from our home lasts for miles, and there is nothing to compare to the beauty. This is our home.
A well was installed by the previous owner (after the hubs’ great-grandparents) on the property in 1979. The well was 203 feet deep with a 40 foot cement casing, which was current code at that time.
In the past, we’ve received the notices in the mail from Kewaunee County to have our water tested. When I was working full-time, we didn’t have the time to take water out of a certain faucet at a certain time of day and drive it to wherever, and pay $39 to have it processed. We already knew our well was contaminated, why have it tested? The letters were thrown out.
The hubs’ previous wife died of lung cancer in 2011. She had a medical history of cancer.
I was diagnosed with Stage IV metastatic breast cancer in March, 2015. There is no history of cancer for me, or in my family.
Having Stage IV metastatic breast cancer of course means that I have a very compromised immune system due to chemotherapy drugs. Having the threat of E. Coli in the water is not conducive to trying to stay healthy.
Due to my diagnosis, I had to retire from the working world in 2015. This reduced our income to what the hubs’ brings home from working as a master electrician, and social security disability for me.
Improving Our Home
Any extra money we have ever had has gone towards improving our home.
A life insurance policy that I had taken out in 2006 contained a terminal illness rider. Since my diagnosis of Stage IV metastatic breast cancer, I made a claim under the rider and received a payment. That money was used to install two new furnaces to replace our 20-year old furnace, as well as new windows and doors to replace the almost 40-year old windows and doors in our home.
The new windows and doors, at the cost of around of $49,000, emphasized the beauty that surrounded our home.
Being a farmer is a calling. It’s like the calling my dad had to be a preacher-man. A true farmer has a passion for land and animals, and how the small picture of his land and animals affects the larger picture of the population surrounding him.
I used to farm with Gary, my first husband. I was out on the tractor to disc up the soil after the crops were taken off for the year. I helped to fertilize the corn and soybeans, haul grain, and move machinery. That feeling of passion is known, I’ve felt it. You are caring for a living, breathing, piece of dirt that has LIFE.
Farmers have a passion for the land. Land is a living, breathing, finite property, and a farmer has a passion for that land. Or so one would think.
No matter whether a farmer has a small family farm, or a large corporate farm business, there are laws, rules, regulations to follow.
And wrapped into those laws, rules, and regulations, remains the underlying passion for the land. One would hope.
The Land Around Us
No matter where you are in this world of ours, whether you are in Texas, Wyoming, California, Kansas, Iowa, or Wisconsin, underneath the top layers of ground are cracks and crevices, fissures, and faults.
In the fields surrounding our home, there is a known fault that has been surveyed and shown on county bedrock maps for ages.
Despite the knowledge of the fault in the ground, despite the instructions for manure spreading in that area, coupled with a hard driving rainstorm the next day after spreading of the manure, we got shit.
Per the DNR, this farmer had a Category III discharge by applying manure on a field with a mapped karst feature, immediately prior to a rain event, which caused contamination of the ground water, and subsequently our well and home.
The farmer did have a nutrient management plan which showed the mapped karst feature. Nutrient Management Plans are to be provided to manure haulers prior to spreading. The farmer did not provide the Nutrient Management Plan to the manure hauler prior to spreading.
Farmers are well aware that they are not to spread manure prior to a rain event as well. Rain was forecasted for Wednesday, October 26, 2016.
The manure runoff risk advisory forecast was “high” across most of Wisconsin, including Kewaunee County. (Available at http://www.manureadvisorysystem.wi.gov/app/events/render_snapshot/3250
This farmer’s excuse for continuing to spread was “to empty the manure storage”, even after hearing about our well contamination. He stated that he had to use the hauler when the hauler was available because it costs money if they (the hauler) have to come back and set up again.
This time, no passion for the land was involved. There was only passion for getting the job done, getting the manure away from the farm and out onto the fields in any way possible, as quickly as possible, under the cover of night so as not to be seen as to what was being done – even continuing AFTER being told to cease and desist.
Shitty, Smelly Water
Before heading upstairs for the night on October 26th, 2016, I debated turning on the dishwasher. I didn’t have many dishes in there, but thought I would make for myself an easy day of dishes the next day. I pressed the start button.
As we do every night, we were preparing for bed. I turned on the water in the bathroom sink faucet to rinse my toothbrush to get it wet to brush my teeth. The water coming out of the faucet that Wednesday night, was pure, brown, manure. And smelled as such. The hubs turned on the water in the shower to get it heated up, the water was a brownish/black color and immediately smelled of manure.
We immediately turned the water off in both the sink and the shower. We went to bed, and lying in bed, the hubs was finally broken. He’s worked very hard on improving our home, we have worked hard on improving our home, and this was just several steps backwards, and something we didn’t need to have to deal with.
The dishes in the dishwasher were washed in pure cow manure that night. I’m glad that it wasn’t a full load, as each one of those dishes, spoons, forks, sharp knives, and glasses were thrown out.
Knowing that the problem lied in the manure that was spread in the field to the west of our home the previous Tuesday, on Thursday, October 27th, 2016, I called the Kewaunee County Land Conservation Department. The members of that Department, the DNR, the EPA, and other entities came immediately to take samples of our water, and our soil.
The lab results on the sample taken by the DNR showed the contamination was from bovine (cow), and the coliform bacteria and E. Coli bacteria were in high quantities in the water.
Did you know there is DNA in manure? That DNA can be traced to the DNA of the cows where the manure came from. Samples of the manure were taken from our field in order to test the DNA.
The results of the DNA proved that the manure in our well came from the manure that was spread on our field, which came from the farm that spread the manure.
More samples were taken the following Monday by the DNR through Mark Borchardt, in which they did virus testing, nitrate testing, and other testing.
I also contacted our local WBAY -TV2 news. Brittany Schmidt, a reporter with WBAY and a camera man came out to talk with me. The story was on the news that evening.
The farmer and his wife rang our doorbell that evening.
“How do you know it was me? There were three other farmers spreading manure that day.” Are you kidding me? Three other farmers don’t own the land around us and weren’t spreading manure next to our house that day.
“What would it take?”, he asked.
“Take for what?”, the hubs responded.
“To buy your house”, he said.
“We just put in all new windows and doors, we aren’t going to give up our house!”
The farmer responded, “well, you can take the new windows and doors with you.”
I politely stated that we would be in contact as we moved through the process of cleaning up the mess.
Inconveniences of No Water
We were not able to shower in our own showers, we were not able to wash dishes in our dishwasher, we were not able to wash laundry in our washer, since the manure infiltrated our home on October 26th.
We showered and did laundry at my mother-in-law’s home, two miles away. I boiled water from the water cooler to be able to do dishes and cook.
A few days after the water samples were taken, our house no longer had the Wisconsin dairy-airre smell inside. A blast of chlorination was done, so then we had a smell of manure and bleach. *cough cough* Ick.
The water started to run clear, but that didn’t mean we could use it.
More water testing was done, and there is still too much bacteria to count. Which means still no showers, no doing dishes in the dishwasher, and no laundry in the washer.
WE WENT SIXTEEN DAYS WITHOUT WATER THAT WE COULD USE.
On the 17th day after the contamination, a 5000-gallon water tank was added as a decoration to our yard. This has been provided through Rio Creek Feed Mill, thanks to the generosity of Peninsula Pride Farms. The water tank was filled with clean water from the Village of Luxemburg by the Village of Luxemburg Fire Department.
The well driller, Dave Gregorich of Champion Pump, provided a pump, chlorination of the pipes, water heater, and water softener so we could use the water in the water tank. The pump and hose were hooked up to the water tank, and I got to wash dishes in the sink using the water from the faucet that is coming from the water tank! I was EXCITED to be able to do dishes using water from the faucet!
I was told we should have a new well by Thanksgiving.
On Wednesday, November 17th, 2016, while we were on a previously planned family wedding vacation to Jamaica, our 17-year old daughter called us to let us know that there was no water in the house again; the water had frozen in the water tank.
The well driller came and took care of wrapping the lines with heat tape, and a member of Peninsula Pride Farms came to put a heater into the water tank to keep the water from freezing.
Peninsula Pride Farms also provided us with three months of drinking water at no charge to us. They keep all information private and confidential, there are only three people that know who is involved in their Water Well program. However, I have given permission to them to use our names and provide details of our situation.
Working with the DNR for a New Well
The first words out of our mouths, the first fear, “we can’t afford a new well!” Who can afford to pay over approximately $14,000 at the drop of a hat?
I immediately prepared and submitted to the DNR a Well Compensation Program Claim Form and Well Abandonment Program Grant Form.
There are income requirements to receive grants, steps and hoops to get through.
Thankfully we now met the income requirements, since I had had to “retire” from working due to my cancer diagnosis
The DNR came up with specifications for a new well, which were provided to the well driller. He provided the DNR with an estimate for a new well and an estimate for abandonment of the old well.
After receiving the estimates, the DNR forwarded the Well Compensation Program Claim Form, Well Abandonment Program Grant Form to the Wisconsin Department of Administration for them to approve the grant. No work could be commenced until the award letters were received from the DNR.
It was just before Thanksgiving that the grants were approved by the DNR. By then, though, it was too cold to dig a new well.
We had to wait until it warmed up. In the middle of winter.
Drilling of the new well finally started on December 27th, 2016. Concrete was poured the next day for the new well casing, which had to set overnight. December 29th brought a backhoe to dig water lines from the new well into the house.
Our new well was hooked up to our home on December 31st, 2016. The well driller and his crew worked tirelessly to get the well drilled and up and running for us, in freezing cold weather. The new well is 380 feet deep, with a 168-foot casing, all per DNR specifications.
A great way to start the new year with clean water!
The Financial Burden
Never before have I had to delay paying a bill, and I felt terrible and incredibly guilty about it. We aren’t the type of people to ask for help, either. We just didn’t have the money to pay the balance due for the well. Especially since at the time, we also had $3,500 of medical bills to pay.
I feel for those people who have to choose which bills to pay. It’s stressful.
We had our family attorney send a letter to the farmer who caused the manure spill, requesting financial compensation.
We don’t know what will happen or if the farmer will even respond.
That farmer is the one who caused this mess. He was told by the DNR that he should provide financial compensation to us for what he has done. We’ll see what happens – or doesn’t happen.
The Final Numbers
The well installation invoice was $11,924.16.
The DNR grant paid $8,755.62 towards this invoice, leaving a balance of $3,168.54.
The well abandonment invoice was $1,204.00.
The DNR grant paid $903.00 towards this invoice, leaving a balance of $301.00.
Therefore, we had to pay the balance of $3,469.54. I worried about how we were going to pay this remaining balance, I stressed about it, I didn’t sleep at night.
I was more than happy to find out that our income tax refund would be able to cover that amount.
However, a neighboring farmer (not the farmer that caused the contamination) stepped forward and donated that amount to Peninsula Pride Farms, who in turn made a directed donation to us to make the payment to the well driller for the remaining balance.
Do We Have Clean Water?
We’ve heard of the neighbors that have had new wells installed, and six months later they have contaminated water again.
Our water was tested three times after the new well was installed. Within a week, the water in the house started to be a brown-ish color again. However, the water was tested by Lemens Watercare and was found to be high in iron content, which causes the discoloration of the water. To combat this high iron content, we’ve switched the type of salt we use in the water softener.
But a new well, with 168’ of concrete casing, will not guarantee clean water.
THIS IS WHERE THE PROBLEM LIES.
A month, two, six, or a year down the road, the water in the new well may very well be contaminated again, because more manure will be spread, that will go into the fault line, that will go into our new well.
My Valentine’s Day gift on February 14th, 2017, was having our new dishwasher installed. As you may recall, I had run the dishwasher the night the manure came through the pipes, and the dishes were washed and heated dry in manure.
Needless to say, those dishes were thrown out, as was the dishwasher. That manure is something that will never be able to be cleaned out of that dishwasher. I hand washed dishes for 3-1/2 months so I could save money to purchase a new dishwasher. Another expense of $795 out of our pocket.
April of 2017 brought an estimate from Total Outdoor Maintenance to restore our front lawn after installation of the new well, and abandonment of the old well. Yet another expense of $1,475 out of our pocket. Our income tax refund covered that expense.
Kewaunee County, Wisconsin
The day after the report of our situation on WBAY-TV2, the Chairman of the Kewaunee County Board stopped by at our home. I was the only one at home at the time he stopped, as the hubs was at work.
He stated that he was very sorry for what happened to our well. As he handed me an envelope, he said “our family thought you could use this towards your troubles.”
In the envelope was a one hundred dollar bill.
I have never in my life felt as uncomfortable as I did in that moment. The envelope showed the address of Kewaunee County on it. Was it a bribe to keep me quiet?
I pulled up the Kewaunee County website to look for information that could possibly help in our situation, knowing that others in Kewaunee County had dealt with the same issue. The first large link on the main page to click on for was the Groundwater Contamination Task Force. That link has now been moved to be the third link down on the left side of the site. The problem hasn’t gone away.
I told the reporter from WBAY-TV2, that I had skimmed and glossed over all of the past articles in the local newspapers about the groundwater contamination. But just like cancer, until it happens to you….
CAFO’s in Kewaunee County, Wisconsin
There are those groups that are opposed to the CAFO’s (Concentrated Animal Feed Operation) in Kewaunee County. The spill that occurred in our well was not from a CAFO. From what I understand, if there is even a small drop of manure at a CAFO, everything is immediately stopped and the DNR is contacted.
This spill was done by a small farmer, who I believe doesn’t have to abide by such strict regulations and procedures as a CAFO.
I have no opposition to large farms and CAFO’s. I am fully supportive of clean water. But it is my belief that both these farms and the residents of Kewaunee County can work together towards the goal of clean water, especially with organizations such as Peninsula Pride Farms.
In the past, I provided legal and real estate title services to many of the farmers in Kewaunee County, including those that have large farms that have expanded into CAFO’s. If I were still providing those services currently, I would most likely still be working with those farmers.
Additional Medical Issues
–from the contaminated water?
In late February, early March of 2017, I was hospitalized for pneumocystis. After several tests, it was determined that I now suffer from MAC – mycobacterium avium complex. This is a form of TB, but it not TB. Regardless, it was reported to the State.
“There is evidence that the disease is environmentally acquired meaning that the MAC germs get into the lungs or body via air, water, or soil.”(http://www.maclungdisease.org/frequently-asked-questions; UT-Star-PMS-horiz-sm; Frequently Asked Questions; September 11, 2017)
We don’t know how I became ill with MAC. We will probably never know – did come from the water?
What I am still trying to find out is if continued bathing in contaminated water can further affect my health.
A Slap on the Hand
The farmer that caused all of the stress and distress has gotten away with a slap on the hand. The original Notice of Discharge (NOD) issued by the DNR showed that he can no longer spread manure in the field next to our home, and also stated that he was to help out the impacted well owner (us).
A second Notice of Discharge was issued by the DNR stating that the farmer could spread within the field next to our home, within limits. Nothing was said in the second NOD that he was to help out the impacted well owner.
On April 12th, 2017, our attorney sent a certified letter to the farmer and the manure hauler, outlining the financial burden that occurred due to the contamination of our well. Listed in that letter were all of our expenses, along with the inconveniences of not having water, and having to use water and electricity at my mother-in-law’s home while we didn’t have water. We proposed that the farmer pay us ten thousand dollars, and we wouldn’t take him to court over the matter.
The day the farmer received the letter, he recklessly drove in our driveway, making sure to stay on his property. He owns the driveway, but the driveway cannot be blocked due to the fact that U.S. Cellular needs access to their tower behind our property.
He honked the horn on his minivan until I opened the back door. He honked for about five minutes straight. I opened the door, and he immediately started yelling at me. “You didn’t include the cost of a new driveway, because I own this driveway”, he shouted. I shouted back, “I know you can’t block this driveway because of the tower.” This made him even angrier. He was yelling and shouting, I don’t even know what he said. I just said “talk to our attorney” and slammed the door behind me.
We haven’t heard from him since.
We determined it wasn’t worth spending ten thousand dollars, or more, to take him to court, to get nothing from him.
Being a title examiner in my past life, I searched the real estate records. He owes a lot of money on his land. He probably doesn’t have a pot to piss in, or a window to throw it out of.
The Well is Contaminated – AGAIN
March of 2018, we had our water tested through the Kewaunee County Land & Water Conservation Department through a program they had going on.
I saved up for three weeks to get the $123 to pay for the water testing. I took the water samples on March 12th, and on March 20th, we received an email that our new well was contaminated. Positive for coliform bacteria, negative for E. Coli (thank goodness), and high in nitrates. Here we go again.
I notified the DNR of the well test results, and the response I received was that we should disinfect the well and water system (chlorination). Another option given was to increase the capacity of the well (dig deeper) to bring more water up higher into the casing.
There’s a problem with digging deeper in the new well. While the new well was being drilled, the well driller lost a drill bit in the bottom of the well. They tried for two days to try and retrieve that drill bit, to no avail. The DNR representative approved cementing the drill bit in at the bottom of the well. Therefore, we can not dig deeper because of the lost drill bit. That option is off the table.
The third option given by the DNR was to install a liner in the casing below the static water level. We haven’t tried this option, but know it is out there, waiting for us.
I not only notified the DNR, but I notified a Kewaunee County board member that works on the groundwater task force. I notified Peninsula Pride Farms that worked with us previously.
I contacted the well driller, and he immediately got back with me about chlorination. He gave us a break on the cost of chlorination. He normally charges $175 for batch chlorination and water test, but he would charge us only $145.
The first chlorination was done on Tuesday, March 27th, 2018. The chlorination sat in the pipes for 27 hours before we started flushing it out by running a hose out to the ditch. The first water test sample was taken on Friday, March 30th.
The test results arrived on April 5th, and again showed that the water was positive for coliform bacteria, however, we were told that the result changed at the very end of the testing, meaning that the bacteria was very low. The recommendation was to chlorinate a second time and test again.
The second chlorination was done on Tuesday, April 10th, with the second test sample being taken on April 19th. The test result came back on April 25th showing that our water was again safe.
The well driller only charged us for one chlorination and two water tests, so the bill came to $230.00. I just paid that bill on May 30th, as I had to save up the money to pay it. Again, more costs, more financial burdens that we bear for something that was not our fault.
The well driller is recommending to test our well in July, October, and December, and continue every three months after that at a cost of $25 each test.
Continuing Research into Water Quality
We were asked if we would agree to allow a research team from Marquette University to take samples of our water for a study they are conducting about water quality in Kewaunee County. We are one of twelve participants in this study. I am more than willing to help out our community with this issue.
The TV advertisement
The Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters reached out to me in June of 2017 after seeing our story on WBAY. I met with Seth Hoffmeister, the Northeast Organizer, and we talked about what happened with the manure contamination at our home.
Seth informed me of new legislation that was being proposed, NR-151. I was asked to submit comments to the DNR Board.
Then, the request came.
There is a special election for Senate District One, which covers Kewaunee, Door, and part of Brown Counties. The Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters chose to endorse Caleb Frostman for the Senate position, due to his commitment to address the groundwater contamination issue from a level-headed perspective. They wanted to do a TV ad and asked if I wanted to appear in the ad and tell my story of our water contamination.
I am the most apolitical person there is. I have my thoughts and opinions regarding our representatives and the laws they pass, but I keep them to myself. I have never told anyone who I vote for, not even my own husband. A friend of ours talks politics all the time, but respects me enough to not talk about politics when I am around. It just causes too much dissension.
I wanted to make sure that I wouldn’t have to say that I was taking sides politically, because I’m not that type of person.
I received a phone call from the producer of the advertisement. We talked about the ad, and would send me the script. This is one of those “firsts” that you get to experience in your life, that’s for sure!
About eight cars arrived in my driveway on Tuesday, May 22nd, 2018. There was the producer, the camera guy, setup guys, lighting, sound, and makeup. They were everywhere! They were taking pictures and film of our home, which was a little embarrassing, because since we had the new windows and doors installed, we haven’t had the money to replace the siding on the home. We’ve talked about it many times, but we certainly don’t have $22k to put on new siding, or $26k for a new roof, when I have to save $230 to pay for our chlorination and water testing over three paychecks!
It was exciting! There was a TV advertisement and a radio advertisement produced. I was able to see and hear the ads the night before they were released. They assured me that they would make me look good, and they did!
I have so many people in the community that are proud of me for sharing our story and standing up for clean water. I’m proud to help my community.
Clean Water is Important
We didn’t plan to become the next water contamination bible thumpers, advocates, heroes; I just want to still be me. We’re just sharing our story so that perhaps we can help someone else that may have the same or similar issues with their water contamination.
Clean water is important.
You don’t realize what you have until it’s gone. True statement.
One neighbor of ours has brown water, they don’t drink it, but they won’t have it tested because they know its contaminated. Another neighbor stated that his water smells like oil, but depends on his reverse osmosis system to clean/clear his water.
Finding a Solution
I look at the contaminated well situation in Kewaunee County as a large fire. Every new contaminated well is another piece of wood added to the fire. Already, sixty percent of the wells in Kewaunee County are contaminated. We all stand by and watch the fire as it grows and consumes more and more of our community. What is the solution for putting out the fire?
UPDATE JULY, 2018:
Here is a link to a very good article in the US News & World Report Magazine: https://www.usnews.com/news/healthiest-communities/articles/2018-07-17/contaminated-well-water-leads-to-change-in-wisconsin-county