Water test results show improvement

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Saturday, January 12, 2008
— Tests on water samples taken from Larson Acres draining tile lines and wells show a “marked decrease of nitrate loading from the tile lines,” according to the Magnolia Township attorney.

The test results indicate continuing pollution of Norwegian Creek, but the decrease also shows that Larson’s practices for fall manure spreading may have contributed to the favorable results, Glenn Reynolds wrote in a letter to Larson Acres’ attorney.

“Comparing these results from November 2006, tile line discharges of nitrates have decreased from 30 percent to 57 percent,” Reynolds said.

Ed Larson said the results aren’t a surprise because the farm changed its manure application rate and timing.

“We’re satisfied that the results are lower,” Larson said. “Hopefully, by working on different things and new management practices, hopefully we get them lower yet.”

Town supervisor Dave Olsen said the results are a step in the right direction.

“Any improvement is terrific,” he said.

Rock County Judge James Welker on Nov. 30 gave the town permission to take samples from the tile lines and the well on the Larson farm on County B. The samples were taken later that day.

Reynolds’ letter states that Larson Acres did not inform the town of Larson’s farming practices at its heifer facility. Reynolds requested Larson inform the town board of the scope and nature of the fall manure spreading, including the quantity and location of the manure that was spread.

“This data will help the town better formulate a water quality testing regime, coupled with Larson’s modified manure handling practices, accomplish the goal of protecting the water quality of Norwegian Creek,” he said.

Larson said he was never asked for the information, and wasn’t sure if he could provide it because of the town’s pending litigation.

“We have nothing to hide,” Larson said. “We’re willing to work with the town on what we’re doing, and on what works and what doesn’t.”

Larson said the farm applied manure in fall on the top of the soil with a shallow incorporation instead of injecting it into the soil like it previously did.

They also applied the manure later in fall, when the ground was colder so the manure didn’t break down into nitrates, he said.

And the farm applied less manure per acre, he said. This fall the farm applied about 100 pounds of nitrogen per acre, compared to about 130 pounds in previous years, Larson said.

Because the farm applied less in fall, it will need to apply manure on some fields again in spring between the rye harvest and corn planting, he said.

The changes mean higher application costs for the farm, he said, and the farm’s application plan may change again.

“There’s going to be different management practices coming out as technology improves,” he said.

Well testing is a different matter, Reynolds said, and results show some wells have either maintained “the same dangerous levels of nitrates, risen slightly or declined slightly,” Reynolds said.

Olsen said the town will continue to protect the water by pursuing the town’s appeal in circuit court of the state livestock siting review board’s decision on a conditional-use permit for a Larson Acres barn.

The town and a group of residents are appealing the state’s decision, which overturned several conditions that the town had imposed as part of the conditional-use permit. The permit is to house up to 1,500 heifers in a barn on County B.

The parties are scheduled back in court for a motion hearing Wednesday, Feb. 6.

“Maybe through the town’s goal of pressing for the water testing, maybe that helped motivate to improve the water quality,” Olsen said. “Maybe that helped him change his practices. Whatever it is, we’re happy.

“If it’s better, it’s always good.”

Last updated: 2:22 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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