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Reporting concerns

There are times when citizens identify runoff concerns associated with agricultural operations that the DNR, other agencies or the landowners are not aware of. In these cases, it is important to notify the DNR in a timely manner regarding the concern. Any individual who suspects manure from an operation is the source of water pollution can express a complaint to the DNR. The more detailed information the individual can provide such as location, type of problem, size of the operation and the date that the problem was observed, the more useful the information will be in evaluating the situation.

These concerns can be reported directly to the local DNR Agricultural Runoff Management Specialists. If an individual wishes to remain anonymous, concerns should be reported through the DNR Tip Hotline at 1-800-TIP-WDNR (1-800-847-9367) or cell #367.

Spill reporting

If the concern deals with an active spill or release to waters of the state that has the potential to have an adverse impact to human health, welfare or the environment, the concern should be immediately reported to the DNR Spills Hotline at 1-800-943-0003. This is a 24-hour, 7 day per week hotline for reporting operating with the DNR Spills Program.

Department response

When a concern is received by the DNR, it is reviewed and if sufficient evidence exists, an on-site inspection will be performed. A representative from the county Land Conservation Department or the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) may accompany the DNR investigator on these inspections. The landowner or operator is always invited to participate. Note that in some cases, the county Land Conservation Department may take the lead in the investigation for a variety of reasons such as local ordinances or past experiences with the landowner.

If the investigation determines there is no significant discharge to state waters, a follow-up letter is sent to the operator and a copy can be sent to the individual who filed the concern if requested. The letter may contain suggestions for improvements that the operator can make to alleviate any future problems. If a minor problem is identified which can easily or quickly be remedied by changing a management practice, a warning letter may be sent to the operator. This letter would require a change in the management practice in a specified time frame that is usually agreed upon with the operator. A Notice of Discharge is issued for more serious problems. The time given to the operator to correct the issue depends on the severity of the problem. However, if a manure violation leads to a fish kill or is the result of serious negligence, other penalties may be pursued.

For those operators who do not correct identified water pollution problems in the allotted time, the operator may be required to obtain a Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (WPDES) permit. Operators with discharge permits are disqualified from receiving cost-share assistance. If corrective actions are still not taken, the case may be referred to the Wisconsin Department of Justice for possible prosecution.