Pollution stinks. Dane County says manure processing can help

MADISON, Wis. — Pollution stinks. So does cow manure. And Dane County officials say that unprocessed manure leads to pollution in local lakes.

Between January and March, over half of the phosphorus runoff that goes into local waterways comes from manure sitting on frozen ground. Those chemicals lead to algae blooms and slime.

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The solution: Dane County will look into building a new commercial-grade plant to process manure.

The county is already home to two digesters, which use the waste to create natural gas, fertilizer and other materials. Those digesters treat manure from about 10,000 cows. County Executive Joe Parisi said the county needs to treat waste from about 40,000 cows to make a real difference. The North Mendota Watershed is home to nearly 60,000 cows.

“We could create a one-stop-shop service for farmers’ manure and help transport it to one central location,” Parisi said. “Giving both large and small farms an opportunity to access technology to treat rather than spread it on their fields.”

Parisi said that a plant treating manure from 30,000 cows could cut methane emissions by the equivalent of over 100,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide.

“We know Dane County’s agriculture processors contribute $2.5 billion to our economy each year,” James Tye of the Clean Lakes Alliance said. “We also know that producers are eager to be part of the solution to make cleaner lakes for everyone.”

Parisi announced Tuesday that his 2023 budget will include $3 million to study the feasibility of building a processing plant. The study will take about a year to complete. Parisi couldn’t give too many specifics on the potential facility but said it will be located in a rural, agricultural area in the North Mendota Watershed.

The county has already spent millions to get rid of phosphorous sludge from local waterways through the “Suck the Muck” initiative. To date, over 150,00 pounds of phosphorous have been removed. In August, work began to get rid of the chemical in Six Mile Creek.

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Parisi said $2 million will be included in the 2023 budget to clear phosphorous and sediment from Door Creek. The work would begin in 2024.