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IDEM’s answers on CAFO not enough

Steuben residents concerned their lake lifestyle threatened


– At the Indiana Department of Environmental Management’s Aug. 22 public meeting on a Steuben County combined animal feeding operation, residents expressed concerns of protecting water and air quality.

This affects quality of life, health, property values and the local economy.

We heard:

•IDEM only “assures” the application meets minimum code standards at the time of approval. The agency is unconcerned as to the location of the operation or the location of the manure fields, only that there is enough acreage to accommodate the anticipated manure production. Location is up to local officials to determine.

•Up to 2 million gallons of manure and wastewater will be applied to fields. The USDA’s Steuben County Soil Survey states: “The soil readily absorbs but does not adequately filter the effluent in septic absorption fields. The poor filtering capacity may result in the pollution of ground water supplies.”

•IDEM doesn’t test the water or soil for E. coli, growth hormones, antibiotics, heavy metals or other substances often found in the waste materials at CAFOs.

•IDEM waits until the CAFO is ready to produce manure before approving the CAFO’s land application plan, including where the manure and waste will be spread. So there is a potential for fields to be in the application, removed and then re-introduced. IDEM doesn’t go look at the fields; it just looks at topography and soil survey maps for the sites designated in the plan. However, any field is eligible for manure application. There is no assurance that a field eliminated from the current plan won’t be used in the future, or that others in the area won’t be added.

•IDEM allows operators to choose how to transport manure and wastewater to the fields – by tank wagon; semis with liquid tanks; or pumping stations with hoses along road ditches. Accidental leaks or spills could make their way downhill to wetlands and lakes.

•IDEM allows operators to decide whether manure and wastewater will be sprayed on the fields or knifed into the soil. Spraying is easier in rocky areas; while knifing minimizes odors. There is greater risk of pollution from runoff after a large rainfall with spraying. Nitrogen is mobile and unstable in the soil. What happens to the nitrogen, and other contaminants in the fall application? Are they truly used by crops that are growing the following spring and summer, especially since second application is made before spring planting? Is fall merely dumping of industrial agricultural waste?

•Each barn’s concrete manure pit holds 999,800 gallons of manure only 3 feet from the seasonal high water table. Should leakage occur, it will have a fast path to the ground water.

•IDEM rarely requires monitoring wells as an early-warning system. IDEM recommends that residential wells and lake water be tested and unexplained changes reported to them after the fact; residents are responsible for the monitoring cost. Once a problem is identified, how is it immediately remedied while we continue to draw our drinking water from the tainted aquifer? Will we need to boil all drinking water? Will our lakes become unusable?

•IDEM defers to the Board of Animal Health on the disposal of about 960 dead hogs a year. The application states the dead will be composted on site. Could runoff or leaching into ground water, monitored by residents, not be detected until it is too late?

•IDEM has a “zero discharge” policy for manure in ground or surface water. How will the minimal setbacks accomplish this policy without vegetation filter strip or riparian border to stop surface water runoff? A permit has never been revoked; rather, the permit holder is allowed to remedy the problem; they did not elaborate on the cost of remediation.

•IDEM doesn’t require bonding, so if the LLC can’t cover the costs, the taxpayers will. IDEM cannot regulate/control unexpected disasters such as earthquakes, tornadoes, flooding and heavy rainfall that can cause immediate and irreversible damage.

•IDEM has six or seven inspectors for the existing 1,881 CAFOs in the state with 269 to 314 inspections per inspector. The state adds 85 to 100 CAFOs annually with no application denied in the past few years.

It was pointed out that the local applicant is from multi-generational agricultural families with the goal of a well-managed operation. Many in opposition also have multi-generational agricultural ties. Many are neither anti-agriculture nor anti-business. Perhaps the difference is that we are also multi-generational lake residents, recognizing the potentially significant threats to our lake environment, which could affect everyone in Steuben County.

Rep. Dennis Zent said that “IDEM’s hands are tied by existing state regulations” and those standards may not be suitable for the farms near Steuben County lakes, considering the soil types and topography. He continued to stress “location, location, location.”

It is imperative IDEM and local officials consider all risks, weighing financial benefits against the finances, health and welfare of thousands in the community.

This is about community and good stewardship. Elected officials, or their appointees, must make prudent decisions for the good of the community.

Dave Bruns, Kathy Bruns and Tom Danford wrote this on behalf of the Steuben Lakes Environmental Consortium for The Journal Gazette.