During the early morning hours on May 26, 2014, Mike Tasch was cleaning out a manure lagoon at Lake Breeze Dairy in Malone in northeastern Fond du Lac County, when a hose he was using got a hole in it allowing about 50,000 gallons of liquid manure to spill over a field and into nearby Pipe Creek less than two miles east of Lake Winnebago.
Tasch, an independent contractor who was hired by Lake Breeze Dairy, noticed the spill at 4:30 a.m.
He immediately notified Lake Breeze Dairy and the Department of Natural Resources who helped with the cleanup. Tasch used a pumper truck, a vacuum truck and a back hoe to catch as much of the effluent as possible. Less than 10,000 gallons of manure got into Pipe Creek, but the accident killed fish. Pipe Creek flows into Lake Winnebago.
Tasch who sold Lake Breeze the farmland where the dairy was built in 2003, actually owns the land adjacent to the dairy where the spill happened.
A big rain event just a day after the spill helped wash away any remaining manure.
"Two days after the spill, there were frogs in the creek," Tasch recalls.
Ryan Rice, conservationist for the Fond du Lac County Land and Water Conservation Department, said his department had already been working on fixing erosion on Pipe Creek before the manure spill.
"The manure spill and the rain event after it ended up being a catalyst to make a lot more improvements to Pipe Creek," Rice says. "We don't want anything like this to happen again."
Rice says in January his department installed a rock-lined waterway at the site of the manure spill leading into Pipe Creek to prevent gully erosion. Last summer, they put in a grassed waterway.
"In June, we will be putting in a water and sediment control basin designed to reduce sediment from getting into Lake Winnebago," Rice explains. "It could hold 1.6 million gallons of manure. If there was ever another accident, they could close off the outlet pipes and everything would flow into the basin."
Tasch is cost-sharing the projects with the Fond du Lac Land and Water Conservation Department. He is paying 30% of the cost while the county is paying 70%.
"All farmers want to take care of the land because the land takes care of us," says Mark Diederichs, co-owner and general manager of Lake Breeze Dairy.
In addition to these efforts to improve Pipe Creek, the Fond du Lac Land and Water Conservation Department has written a grant for the Pipe Creek Watershed to incentivize implementation of the nutrient management plans with land operators in Fond du Lac County.
"We're going to try and take nutrient management plan implementation to the next level. We want to show landowners how to connect the nutrient management plans with their conservation plans so they continue to achieve crop production goals along with reducing soil and nutrient losses," says Becky Wagner of the Fond du Lac Land and Water Conservation Department. "We can take a farm's nutrient management plan and find out where the most vulnerable areas are for soil and nutrient losses. Then we can focus on those spots, do cover crops and best management practices."
Rice says his department has already identified 57 potential projects in the Pipe Creek Watershed.
"Twelve of those projects have already been completed or are in progress," Rice says.
A total of 5,900 acres of the Pipe Creek Watershed are located in Fond du Lac County.
Rice and Wagner hope to learn this summer if they will receive the grant.
"It will likely be for 2017 implementation," Rice says.