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about Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.
for a Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit.

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quantity and quality

Residents in the area of the proposed Golden Sands Dairy generally obtain their drinking water supplies from private wells. Wells are safe, dependable sources of water if sited wisely and built correctly. Unlike public water systems, protection and maintenance of a private well is largely the responsibility of homeowners. Water quality will be analyzed as part of the Golden Sands project review process, but homeowner responsibility should always include routine annual well testing. Well drillers or pump installers are the best source of assistance for information about or help with individual well situations.

» More information on private well testing.

Contact information
Dan Helsel

Golden Sands Dairy CAFO


Golden Sands Dairy, LLC and Ellis Industries Saratoga, LLC have submitted application materials for the state permits to construct, populate, and operate a dairy operation that qualifies as a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO). A CAFO is defined as an operation with 1,000 or more animal units. 1,000 animal units is equivalent to 700 milking and dry cows, 1,000 beef steers or 2,500 pigs. The applicant has prepared an environmental impact report (EIR) for a proposed new operation - Golden Sands Dairy, LLC (GSD), which plans to convert 4,660 acres of existing red pine plantation crops into a dairy and irrigated agricultural crop fields for growing both vegetable and forage crops, and bring 1,800 existing acres of irrigated crop fields into a DNR-approved nutrient management plan.

The operation described in the EIR is the GSD Project, which consists of two basic components: 1) the GSD Production Area that includes the dairy animals, dairy buildings, agricultural facilities and equipment; and 2) the GSD Agricultural Crop Fields. The GSD Agricultural Crop fields include both the irrigated areas where crops will be grown and perimeter buffer zones. The proposed GSD Production Area and the majority of GSD Agricultural Crop Fields are located in the Town of Saratoga, Wood County Wisconsin. Approximately 1,588 acres are located in Portage County and 4,367 acres are located in Wood County. The GSD Project now consists of a total of 7,838 total acres subdivided as follows: approximately 6,460 acres of agricultural crop fields, with 4,660 acres of this area proposed for conversion from pine plantation to irrigated vegetable and forage crops and 1,800 acres of existing cropped fields (mentioned above), 1,280 acres of pine plantation to remain in place and serve as perimeter buffer zones; a 98-acre GSD Production Area; and 33 high capacity wells – 31 for irrigation and 2 for the GSD Production Area (please note that the original proposal was for 47 irrigation wells with the same 2 wells for the Production Area).

Current status

The DNR reviewed the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) from the applicant. The information in the EIR has been reviewed and verified, and will be used as the basis for the DNR’s EIS. The department will provide any needed additional information necessary for a complete, factual, draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). We hope to have the DEIS completed by the end of 2015.

The DNR is reviewing the Golden Sands Dairy permit applications for completeness. On October 18, 2012, the DNR’s WPDES permit program rejected proposed design plans related to the construction of manure and process wastewater storage and handling systems submitted by the applicant. The DNR determined that:

  1. it needs additional information regarding the plans;
  2. portions of the plans do not meet applicable design requirements; and
  3. the plans likely need additional design practices to protect water quality.

Details can be found in the department’s letter to the applicant [PDF]. This rejection only applies to plan review conducted by the WPDES permit program and does not affect other DNR program review processes (e.g., high capacity well review). On March 14, 2014, the DNR received revised plans, which are currently under review by the WPDES permit program staff. The revised plans can be found under WPDES.

The DNR decided to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the project. The EIS describes the proposal and the affected environment, and analyzes the environmental impacts and possible alternatives. The EIS process includes public scoping and issue identification. The department received a large number of public comments during the scoping comment period from August 6 to September 21, 2012. The public comments are available on the EIS tab. Posting of additional information will occur when it is available.

High capacity wells

The Golden Sands Dairy Project also includes applications for 33 high capacity wells, which includes two wells to serve the production site of the dairy operations, and 31 wells for irrigation of approximately 4,150 acres of cropland.

For more information, contact:

Rachel Greve

The applicant must obtain high capacity well approvals for construction and operation of the proposed irrigation wells and wells serving the dairy itself. The DNR reviews each application for a new high capacity well to determine whether the well, along with other existing and reasonably anticipated future high capacity wells, would result in significant adverse environmental impacts to waters of the state, which includes all streams, lakes, wetlands and public and private wells.

Following completion of a detailed technical review, if the DNR determines the well could directly result in significant impacts, the DNR would either deny the well application or impose conditions on the construction and operation of the well to prevent such impacts. The DNR bases the need to impose conditions or deny an application on the projected impacts to the affected water resource, e.g., estimated reductions in stream flow or lake level, and the resultant impacts to water temperature, the fishery and other ecological aspects of the stream or lake. In conducting these assessments, DNR considers site-specific hydrogeology, separation distance between the well(s) and the water resource, the hydrology and characteristics of potentially-affected surface waters, construction details of nearby wells and characteristics of the proposed wells such as construction, pump capacity, water use and pumping schedule for the proposed well and any other existing wells on the property.

In the case of the proposed Golden Sands Dairy, the DNR will specifically evaluate impacts to Tenmile and Sevenmile Creeks, along with impacts to private wells and other water resources in the area, as a result of the of the proposed water withdrawal related to the Dairy. The dairy will be required to demonstrate that the proposed water withdrawals will not result in significant adverse impacts to these resources. The dairy has collected baseline information concerning the water resources which may be affected and has developed and submitted a groundwater model of the area which is being used as a tool to assess the impacts related to the dairy’s operation. The DNR has also gathered additional baseline information for the two primary streams in the area.


CAFOs like Golden Sands Dairy are required to obtain a water quality protection permit known as a Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (WPDES) permit. The permit regulates how CAFOs store and land apply manure and process wastewater (e.g., milking center wastes and feed storage leachate). Golden Sands has proposed two freestall barns, a dry cow barn, and a special needs barn to house 4,000 milking/dry cows and 300 heifers (800-1,200 lbs.) 1,000 calves (under 400 lbs.) will be maintained in calf hutches. Golden Sands Dairy will produce approximately 55 million gallons of liquid manure/process wastewater and 25,000 tons of solid manure on an annual basis beginning in 2017. Liquid manure generated within the barns will be removed and transferred to storage via vacuum tankers. Manure and process wastewater will be stored in a combination of three liquid tight concrete lined manure storage structure with a total capacity of 30 million gallons.

Land application of manure and process wastewater from a permitted CAFO is done in accordance with a DNR approved Nutrient Management Plan. The Nutrient Management Plan includes 5,955 acres of cropland, and all 5,955 acres are proposed to receive manure/process wastewater on an annual basis beginning and when the facility is fully populated in 2017.

The primary feed for the milking and dry cows will be grown on Golden Sands Dairy agricultural fields. Harvested feed will be stored on a concrete/asphalt feed pad designed to contain and collect leachate and runoff. All collected leachate and runoff up to the 100-year rainfall event will be transferred to the waste storage facilities. Additional feed rations and processed feed will be stored under roof in a commodity building.

Animals in the barns will be bedded with sand that will be sourced on-site. A sand separation system will be constructed to mechanically reclaim sand from the liquid manure stream. Recycled sand with separated manure solids will be stockpiled on an impervious concrete stacking pad. A digester and solids separation facility will be constructed to generate electricity and separate manure solids, respectively. Golden Sands Dairy plans to have the digester operational at the time the facility is populated with animals.

Monitoring of groundwater quality of the production area of Golden Sands Dairy is planned. Four groundwater monitoring wells installed outside the perimeter of the production area are proposed. Two high capacity wells will provide water for the dairy, one of these wells is proposed to be installed adjacent to the production area.

Certified custom manure applicators will apply Golden Sands Dairy LLC liquid and solid manure. Solid manure will be surface applied using box spreaders and liquid manure will be pumped by hose and injected or surface applied and incorporated. Golden Sands Dairy, LLC plans to eventually apply manure using center pivot irrigation equipment. All planned manure and process wastewater applications to fields are during spring and summer or fall months. Fall manure applications will be made only to fields that receive a fall cover crop and no planned applications for winter periods are proposed. Golden Sands Dairy LLC does not plan any other methods of use, disposal or distribution of manure or process wastewater, except for the incorporation of a digester system and the resulting production of separated manure components during the proposed permit term (2015-2020).

The CAFO WPDES permit program also requires DNR approval of manure and process wastewater handling storage and handling systems. The DNR reviews handling and storage systems for a CAFO to ensure compliance with applicable design standards and code requirements in order to minimize the potential for impacts to waters of the state (streams, lakes, wetlands and groundwater) and to avoid exceedances of groundwater and surface water quality standards.

Following review of the operation’s WPDES permit application, the DNR will create a draft WPDES permit that it will public notice for at least 30 days. It is likely the DNR will also hold a public informational hearing on the WPDES permit. During the public notice period, interested citizens and the applicant can submit comments on the conditions of the WPDES permit. The DNR will review and respond to the comments, make any needed changes to the permit and issue its decisions on the WPDES permit.

On October 18, 2012, the DNR’s WPDES permit program rejected proposed design plans related to the construction of manure and process wastewater storage and handling systems submitted by the applicant. The DNR determined that (1) additional information is needed regarding the plans, (2) that portions of the plans do not meet applicable design requirements and (3) additional design practices are likely needed to protect water quality. Details can be found in the Department’s letter to the applicant [PDF]. This rejection only applies to plan review conducted by the WPDES permit program and does not impact other DNR program review processes (e.g., high capacity well review). On March 14, 2014, the DNR received revised plans. The plans have been determined to be substantially complete, and are currently under detailed review by the WPDES permit program staff. The revised plans are available.

Available portions of the operation’s WPDES permit application

For questions related to the WPDES permit, contact
Adam Scheunemann

Nutrient management plan (NMP)

The Nutrient Management Plan remains under review by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Documents posted will change over time based upon DNR review.

For questions related to the NMP, contact
Joe Baeten

Environmental Impact Statement

The department will prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for this project. The applicant has submitted an environmental impact report (EIR). The EIR describes the proposed project, project alternatives, the environment that will be affected and the anticipated environmental effects. The DNR will review and verify the EIR information in developing the department’s EIS. When the EIS is complete, the department will release it for a 45 day public comment period. The DNR will also send the EIS to the Governor’s Office, state, federal and local government agencies with an interest in the project; regional and county planning agencies; and department offices in the vicinity. The EIS will also be available on this website. A public hearing will be held during the comment period.

As part of the EIS process, the department held a public scoping and issue identification meeting at the Saratoga Town Hall on August 23, 2012. The purpose of the meeting was to gather input from the public on issues the public would like to see included in the EIS.

The department received a large number of public comments during the meeting and scoping comment period from August 6 to September 21, 2012. Concerned citizens also provided the DNR with many other suggested sources of information. We are very grateful for the interest and concern shown by the public. Personal information has been redacted from the comments in the links below in order to protect the privacy of the commenters. All comments received may be found in the following links.

Draft Environmental Impact Statement scoping topics outline [PDF]

Air Management Program review

The Department’s Air Management Program has reviewed the information provided in the applicant’s EIR. Following are the comments provided to the applicant’s representative on issues that need further clarification.

  1. In addition to VOC estimates provided, San Juaquin Valley emission factors for VOCs include emissions from fermented feeds (silage piles) as well as from TMR (total mixed rations).
  2. Air quality dispersion modeling is typically not performed by the department on animal agricultural operations (for many scientifically valid reasons), yet there are differences between current modeling policy and the analysis performed by Golden Sands.
  3. Air quality impacts include nitrogen deposition as a direct result of ammonia and other nitrogen emissions from proposed facilities on aquatic and terrestrial areas. Deposition includes both wet and dry deposition of ammonia gas and ammoniated particles and impacts are related to fate and transport.
  4. Air quality impacts include secondary formation of fine particulates (PM2.5) from ammonia. Environmental impact from fine particulates created by proposed facilities are related to fate and transport of those emissions.
  5. Air quality impacts include greenhouse gases (GHG) emitted from proposed facilities and quantification of those emissions.
  6. Air quality impacts include changes in air emissions resulting from land use changes (e.g., forested to cropped).
  7. Air quality impacts include quantification of federal hazardous air pollutants (HAPs).

EIR review process

The DNR is reviewing the EIR and the review will take some time. Chapter NR 150 governs how we implement the WI Environmental Policy Act (WEPA). Since this project started, we have revised NR 150 (effective 4/1/14) so we have an old code and a new code, which both have to be applied to the best of our ability. An example, under the old code, public review of an EIS was 45 days while under the new code it is 30 days. This was done to synchronize the EIS public review to a typical permit public review period. Since it started under the old code, we will have a 45 day public comment period. For the EIR review period, under the old code there are the following provisions for review of an EIR: 60 days if less than 1,000 pages and 120 days if more than 1,000 pages (the applicant was told we consider it over 1,000 pages). Under the new code there is not a timeline for review of an EIR and that is because the review has always been considered an ongoing process with the applicant until the EIS is considered complete. Hence the change in the new code. So instead of putting a time limit for review, we will continue to work with the applicant to refine information for use in the EIS, which actually lengthens the time we refine the EIR information to more than 120 days.

It should be noted that the EIR is for our agency to review. While the public can review it we are not taking public comments where we do a response to comments. The reason being is that the EIR is the applicant’s document, not ours; we do not defend the information in their document. Also, there will be changes made to the EIR before any information in it is used for the EIS. So some of the information in the EIR may not be used, or it may be modified or it may be corrected. When we have completed the EIS we will be sending that out for comment, and the information in the EIS is something we do defend because it is what we consider to be factual and a full disclosure of what is being proposed. At that point we do take public comments during the 45 day comment period and respond to those comments. Once we have responded to the comments and consider the document accurate, complete and full disclosure, a record of decision (ROD) will be signed for the Secretary and the information process is complete. At that point permit decisions can be made.

Keep in mind that an EIS is an information document only. The EIS does not determine the decisions that are made. It only provides the information to permit and approval authorities to assist them in making their decisions based on what the law provides.

Contact information
For questions related to the EIS, contact:
Dan Helsel
Last revised: Tuesday December 13 2016