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Dane County Launches Project to Study Innovative Community Manure Treatment Plant

August 07, 2023
Ariana Vruwink, 608-267-8823
County Executive

                        Working with Community Partners, New Plant Will Be Major Step Forward to Protect and Improve Our Lakes and Climate


Today, County Executive Joe Parisi announced that Dane County will seek partners to evaluate the feasibility and development of the latest innovative project that will substantially reduce phosphorus runoff, advance the community’s clean lakes efforts, and benefit the climate. Parisi’s 2023 budget proposal approved by the County Board included $3 million to study the feasibility of opening a community scale manure processing plant and funding to acquire a site for this potential development.


“We have done a lot over the past decade to address the root cause of excessive algae growth in the Yahara Chain of Lakes. Yet, as our community has stepped up phosphorus reduction and containment efforts, the more intense rains of climate change have become more frequent,” said Parisi. “We need a grander scale solution to address this challenge if we want to reach our phosphorus runoff reduction goals. I believe Dane County can and should play a leading role in this work.”


The County has released a Request for Proposals (RFP) that will obtain bids from consultants that will evaluate the feasibility of a Community Manure Treatment Facility studying potential sites, technology options, and costs. Dane County Land and Water Resources Department staff is working with a Technical Work Group of local farmers and agronomists that will assist in the selection of a consultant.


Manure spread onto frozen land can spur phosphorus delivery to area lakes triggering summer algae blooms. Dane County remains one of the top counties in the United States for milk production. Some of the most highly productive farmlands in Dane County exist within the watersheds of its most sensitive rivers and lakes. Agriculture is an enormous part of Dane County’s economy, and the community values its farms.  Protecting this legacy while embracing the kind of bold solution that is needed to help the lakes, which also serve as an economic engine, is a priority.


Ending winter spreading will help reduce the phosphorus load. Approximately 50 percent of phosphorus loading in the Mendota watershed occurs during the January through March period.  Society has found ways to manage human waste at a community-wide scale. If the same principles are applied to animal waste, Dane County can substantively move the dial on cleaning area lakes in a way never previously conceived as possible.


Community manure treatment is a priority action identified in the 2022 “Renew the Blue: A Community Guide for Cleaner Lakes & Beaches in the Yahara Watershed,” which was developed through a coalition of the partners including the Clean Lakes Alliance, Dane County, Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin, Dane County Cities & Villages Association, Dane County Towns Association, Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District, and 12 other partners.


There is precedence for this project. Dane County played an instrumental role as a partner to spur the development of two digesters in the North Mendota Watershed nearly 15 years ago.  Located just outside of Middleton and Waunakee, these facilities have helped farmers manage manure application. Both projects convert methane from digested manure into renewable natural gas (RNG) and truck it to Dane County’s RNG Processing and Offloading Station for use as cleaner burning vehicle fuel, reducing climate-changing emissions.


With the operation of this treatment plant, Dane County and its partners can create a one-stop service for manure that can be transported to one central location. Incentives can be created for participation in a true community scale solution. This project will also offer smaller producers an opportunity to better manage animal waste streams with technical solutions they may not otherwise be able to afford on their own.


A community manure treatment plant will be an asset to Dane County’s clean lakes and climate goals, collecting methane from manure and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Renewable natural gas and excess nutrients that contribute to algae growth could be exported out of the watershed.


A plant treating approximately 300 million gallons of manure each year from 30,000 cows would reduce methane emissions by the equivalent of more than 100,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide. This reduction is comparable to reducing the emissions of nearly 255 million miles driven by passenger vehicles – or 10 million gallons of gasoline per year.

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