The state of Wisconsin has filed criminal charges against a Kewaunee dairy farmer, an agronomist, and a hauler, alleging that they worked together illegally dumped millions gallons of manure — which ultimately ended up polluting Lake Michigan tributaries — and then filed false reports to cover it up.
According to a complaint on file with the Wisconsin Department of Justice, state prosecutors claim that the majority of the illegal dumping from the 2,000-cow dairy operation owned by Johannes Wakker, 71, happened in late 2019. It maps out eight major violations, including “Manure Spread Through a Concentrated Flow Channel” and “Failure to Draft a Compliant Nutrient Management Plan.” All three defendants have been charged with felony counts of conspiracy and fraud.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has regulations in place designed to prevent and minimize water pollution and issues permits authorized by these statutes for many agricultural operations. These kinds of permits are commonplace in the agricultural industry, and specific regulatory scrutiny is given to large concentrated animal feeding operations, which are defined as any farm or ranch that has more than 1,000 animal units.
According to reporting by the Wisconsin State Journal, the accusations in this case state that Gregory Stodola spread the manure on Wakker’s saturated fields in amounts that exceeded what was allowed by permit for the roughly 3,300-acre Wakker Dairy, and the excess then washed into tributaries of Lake Michigan. In one case, the Department of Natural Resources found E. coli bacteria levels more than 100 times higher than the threshold that would trigger a beach closure.
Prosecutors believe Stodola then falsified documents, and Wakker’s agronomist, Benjamin Koss, further adjusted the figures to meet DNR regulations.
A Wisconsin statute states that “[a]ny person who violates this chapter, any rule promulgated under this chapter, any term or condition of a permit issued under chapter … shall forfeit not less than $10 nor more than $10,000 for each day of violation, except that the minimum forfeiture does not apply if the point source at which the violation occurred is an animal feeding operation.”
The complaint states Wakker could have taken the excess manure to an off-site storage facility but spreading it back on the fields was more cost-effective.
DNR agents investigating the manure distribution found log books, computer and cellphone records indicating that all three defendants were aware of the fabricated record, the complaint said.
The Wisconsin State Journal uncovered court records that show Wakker was recently ordered to pay $225,000 for multiple permit violations stemming from more than a dozen manure spills between 2017 and 2020.
Johannes Wakker and his family have Dutch and Ukrainian roots, and the dairy contributes to the farmstead gouda-style cream cheeses at Wakker Cheese. Since the war broke out between Russia and Ukraine earlier this year, a portion of sales at Wakker Cheese goes to purchsing critical supplies to help Ukrainian families in need.