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MADISON — Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen announced today that his office has obtained a $300,000 judgment and order against Grassland Dairy Products, Inc., of Clark County, for discharging water pollutants in excess of its Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (WPDES) permit.
Grassland is one of the world's largest producers of butter. Every day, hundreds of milk producers ship millions of gallons of milk to Grassland. It also produces other dairy products, including condensed milk, milk protein concentrate, buttermilk and nonfat dry milk. Grassland operates its business subject to a Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (WPDES) permit.
Grassland's WPDES permit establishes daily maximum biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) levels at 82.6 pounds per day. It also requires Grassland to measure and report BOD levels once a day and to inform the DNR of any BOD level violations. These BOD limits apply to the Black River, located slightly more than two miles east of Grassland Dairy's facilities.
BOD is a measure of how much oxygen is consumed in the decomposition of organic material associated with wastewater discharges. Dissolved oxygen is critical to the survival of aquatic organisms such as fish. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) tailors BOD limits to the specific need of the nearby body of water, taking into account factors such as the flow of the water body and the type of aquatic life in the water body. Any violation of this specifically tailored BOD level results in a risk of harm to the aquatic organisms, such as Black River's pan fish, bass, and northern pike. The Black River is listed by the EPA as impaired due to low-dissolved oxygen due to high BOD a few miles downstream from Grassland Dairy's outfall.
According to the compliant, between 2006 and 2013, Grassland Dairy violated its WPDES permit 119 times due to BOD level exceedances. On 38 days, the exceedances were greater than 150% of its daily limits. In 2010, Grassland proceeded with a $70 million expansion that did not adequately address the wastewater implications, despite numerous ongoing violations. Grassland's permit also required it to report the BOD exceedances to the DNR within 24 hours after becoming aware of exceedances. Grassland only reported three exceedances in a timely manner, meaning it violated its WPDES permit 116 times by failing to report BOD exceedances according to the terms of its permit.
After years of DNR involvement and a referral to the Department of Justice, Grassland finally brought its wastewater system into compliance with the terms of its WPDES permit in October 2013. Grassland agreed to pay $300,000 for the exceedances and reporting violations that occurred between 2006 and 2013. Grassland also agreed to pay $1,200 for any exceedances that occur between July 16, 2014 and July 15, 2015.
“Wastewater permits are an important safeguard to prevent contamination of our valuable natural resources. Such permits must be adhered to, and violations will be enforced,” Attorney General Van Hollen said.
The case was investigated by the DNR and prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Mary D. Batt of the Wisconsin Department of Justice. The judgment and order were approved by Judge Jon Counsell of Clark County Circuit Court.
Copies of the Summons and Complaint, Stipulation and Order for Judgment, and Judgment are available at the following links: