Wisconsin creamery to pay $250k in fines for alleged discharge violations at cheesemaking facility

The Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery (ECC) has been ordered to pay a fine for allegedly violating its wastewater discharge permit for years at its cheesemaking facility.

Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul announced Wednesday the Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a civil judgment against ECC which requires the creamery to pay $250,000 in fines and install pollution control equipment.

A complaint filed by the State of Wisconsin states ECC repeatedly violated its wastewater discharge permit between Oct. 2017 and Aug. 2022 by exceeding the permit’s limitations for biological oxygen demand, total suspended solids, ammonia, dissolved oxygen, phosphorus, and temperature.

The complaint adds the permit violations led to negative impacts on nearby Isabelle Creek, a trout stream used by local anglers. An excess of effluent materials, also known as liquid waste and sewage, led to a fish kill across a three-mile portion of the stream in Aug. 2022.

“To protect both our environment and human health, our water should be free of unlawful wastewater discharges,” said Attorney General Kaul. “Wastewater discharge permit holders must help safeguard clean water by following the terms of their permits.”

In addition to the quarter of a million dollar fine, ECC must make the following changes:

  • Install a wastewater effluent thermal chiller to cool ECC’s wastewater before it is discharged to Isabelle Creek
  • Replace a whey fines saver system in the production area that will minimize process liquid overflow events that are directly discharged to ECC’s wastewater treatment facility
  • Install a high-strength wastewater diversion system that will allow for high-strength wastewater to be blended with lower-strength wastewater before it goes through ECC’s wastewater treatment facility.

Paul Bauer, CEO and General Manager of Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery, said in a statement, “Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery is dedicated to the protection and preservation of our natural resources. Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery reached a settlement with the State of Wisconsin following unforeseen issues involving discharges of treated wastewater effluent and is working with the DNR to ensure that future issues do not occur. The settlement includes a significant commitment of resources by our farmer-owned cooperative to upgrade our wastewater treatment system. Any wastewater effluent discharged over permit limits was completely unintentional and addressed immediately, with complete follow-up reporting to and cooperation with the DNR. We are proud to have been a part of the Ellsworth community for more than 100 years thanks to our farmer-owners who share our deep commitment to environmental responsibility, and we will remain dedicated to protecting the environment and its natural resources.”

A full copy of the judgment can be read below: