Tougher rules for livestock industry supported at Carroll County hearing
May 9, 2014
Gene Tinker, animal feeding operations coordinator at the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, said Iowans have been very vocal on the issue of water quality and the impact of livestock producers. The Carroll hearing was the third of six being conducted by the DNR to haer community feedback on proposed rules.
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A three-strike rule, permit requirements, and water-quality database compilation were strongly supported by regional residents attending an Iowa Department of Natural Resources hearing on new rules for animal-confinement operations at the Carroll County Courthouse Thursday night.
The new rules - designed to improve water quality through better enforcement of livestock farms - would bring the Iowa DNR into compliance with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards, said DNR animal feeding operations coordinator Gene Tinker.
But some Iowans - including most of the nearly 30 residents attending Thursday's hearing - believe the proposed rules are too weak.
The Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement - a grassroots organization with 3,000 members across the state, and about 130 in a seven-county area surrounding Carroll - supports a permit requirement for all factory farms; forced closure of farms that violate water standards three times; stronger language placing the burden of proof on farmers to show they are in compliance with water-quality standards, as opposed to making the taxpayer-funded DNR collect evidence to show which farms are not in compliance; stronger technical standards regarding the methods used to spread manure and the distance required between the fields and watersheds; and the compilation of a database that would enable any Iowan to go online and review which farms have permits, where manure has been spilled and the results of Clean Water Act inspections.
"Habitual violators do exist," said Barb Kalbach, fourth-generation Adair County resident, arguing that farmers who already follow good practices should not have an issue with a permit that would require peers to do the same.
An estimated 10 billion gallons of manure - just from hogs - are placed on Iowa's soil each year - and "Mother Nature" can't be expected to clean up that mess on her own, she said.
"Nobody asked these producers to produce this way," Kalbach said. "They are choosing to, and they need to follow the rules."
Residents from the region, including Carroll, Wall Lake, Lytton, Lake City, Westside and Guthrie County, shared testimonies of spills or poor manure-dispertion practices they say they have witnessed.
Luke Haffner, Lytton resident and self-described "recreational user" of Iowa, said that leaders have not paid attention to the true value of the state's natural resources.
"There are only so many ag jobs out there," he said. "We want other people (in Iowa) too - we want communities, schools, churches, we want things to stay open - so we need a second tier of residents, as well as those in agriculture."
But some in the agricultural industry argue the proposed rules should be accepted as written - that many farmers are already working to improve water quality, and requiring these individuals to wade through a permit process would cut into the bottom-line, forcing smaller producers out of business and leading to even greater concentration of corporate livestock farms.
"I have a manure-management plan, I do my best to do the best job I can, but the weather doesn't always cooperate," said Mike Sibbel, who farms about 550 acres on a farm southwest of Halbur. "A permit would overburden my ordeal."
Sibbel said he already injects manure further below the topsoil than the DNR requires.
"We don't need more regulations, we need to enforce the ones we have," he said. "The ones violating need held accountable, but please don't make me fall into that line with everybody else."
Farmers do the best they can to provide for not only everyone else's food and water quality, but for their own, agreed Jason Nieland, a fifth-generation farmer in Carroll County. After all, their families live on that land, he added.
The proposed DNR enforcement rules are a response to the EPA's fall 2013 threat to take over enforcement of the Clean Water Act - originally passed in 1972 to restrict the amount of pollution that could be discharged into public waterways - unless the DNR stepped up its enforcement of water-quality standards across the state and addressed violations by livestock farms.
Last year, the Iowa Legislature drafted a law requiring the DNR to incorporate the EPA rules into its work, but requiring enforcement to be no more strict than the specific provisions already set forth through federal regulations.
The Clean Water Act does not have specific provisions requiring habitual violators to be shut down - as would occur with a three-strike rule - or require officials to compile an online database for the public, Tinker explained. As DNR leaders listen to public comments and decide whether to accept, reject or change the proposed rule, they will have to determine if provisions such as those proposed at the hearings - Carroll's was the third of six - can be incorporated into their enforcement, or if these actions would be considered "more stringent" than the EPA's own requirements, thereby violating the Iowa legislative directive.
"The moral of the story is that Iowans are concerned, and they're willing to express these concerns - on both sides," said Tinker. "There's a lot of interest - we're in ag country."
Additional hearings will be held in Des Moines, Calmar and Ainsworth. Residents can also submit comments via email - firstname.lastname@example.org - through Tuesday.
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