MADISON, WI (WTAQ) - A town board in Rock County was wrong to make a large dairy farm follow water quality standards stricter than what a state law requires.
In a case closely watched by rural interests, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled 5-2 Wednesday morning that the town of Magnolia did not have the authority to impose more stringent water standards on Larson Acres, a 2,900 cow operation.
Justice Michael Gableman said the state’s livestock siting law from 2004 achieved a balance between protecting natural resources and fostering a strong farm economy. And he said Magnolia, “stepped over” that balance by not following the guidelines set by the Legislature.
But Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson said the majority admitted that the town has other powers to regulate livestock facilities. And therefore, she said it’s, “absurd” to assume that towns have no powers under the specific terms of the state livestock siting law.
Justice Ann Walsh Bradley joined Abrahamson in siding with the town board. The board said the more stringent rules were needed because manure from the farm’s cows resulted in relatively high nitrate levels. And when the board approved an expansion permit, the farm was required to test water quality on its land each month – and to rotate crops a certain way to reduce the buildup of nitrates.
The farm challenged the conditions in court. A Rock County circuit judge sided with the town of Magnolia, but an appeals court sided with the farm’s owners.
Similar court cases have been filed in a half-dozen other states, but the Wisconsin case was the first to reach the Supreme Court level.