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Cow pen

Adam Tracy’s animals look on from one of the pens on his property. Tracy has been accused of polluting a neighbor’s well with cow manure, and now state officials are going to take a closer look.

FORT ANN — The state will take a closer look at a well contamination case that has been linked to manure from a next-door farm.

DEC had already visited Adam Tracy’s Clay Hill Road farm several months ago. Since Tracy has fewer than 200 cows (he has about 20), the state’s regulations about manure control do not apply. DEC officials said they also did not see any “direct evidence” that the manure was affecting the stream that runs through the farm, but they did not test the water.

The well of Tracy’s neighbor had tested positive for E. coli, but Tracy’s well passed the same test.

Neighbor Deborah Witherell hired an engineer herself to investigate the cause of her well contamination. He determined the most likely culprit was piles of manure from Tracy’s cows. He observed piles of manure next to and partially in the stream.

The stream also tested at 5,800 cfu/100 ml. of E. coli before crossing the farm. But when it leaves the farm, E. coli was recorded at 58,000 cfu/100 ml.

Any amount of E. coli — even 1 cfu/100 ml — is considered unsafe in drinking water.

When Witherell could not get DEC or anyone else to make Tracy remove the manure, she sued him in civil court.

But now, increased interest in the situation has convinced DEC officials to look again, they said.

“DEC does not typically regulate small farms through a permit program. However, DEC is responsible for protecting all NYS waters, including this stream and groundwater, and does have the authority to take action if a small farm causes or contributes to a violation of state water quality standards,” the agency said in a statement.

Now DEC will use that authority, the agency said.

“Based on recently raised concerns, DEC will undertake a wet weather investigation in the near future and has coordinated with the local and state health departments regarding the well water concerns,” the agency said.

In the meantime, Witherell paid for an ultraviolet light system, which kills E. coli bacteria when the water enters her house.

Tracy has an ultraviolet light system on his drinking water too, which could explain how his water passed the E. coli test. However, he says he does not use the ultraviolet light system because of the expense; the UV bulb must be replaced each year and costs more than $200.

He has three children, the youngest of whom is 6. He cites them as proof that he is taking care: He would not risk them by letting them drink contaminated water, he said.

He expected DEC to prove his innocence when workers came to his property months ago, he said. He believes his safe well test prove that his cows are not contaminating his neighbor’s well. However, Witherell’s engineer said her septic system could not be at fault. If he is correct, that leaves only the manure, or Tracy’s septic system, as the potential culprits.

An expensive genetic test could be the only way to find out, the engineer said. A genetic test was used when E. coli killed two people and sickened dozens of others at the Washington County Fair in 1999, and it found that contamination likely came from one of the fairgrounds’ septic systems. The test could not rule out the possibility that heavy rain had washed manure into the well, but found that the exact type of E. coli in the well was the type found in a nearby septic system, according to the Department of Health.

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You can reach Kathleen Moore at 742-3247 or Follow her on Twitter @ByKathleenMoore or at her blog on



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