Indiana's first new restrictions in years on factory-style livestock farms that generate large amounts of manure have disappointed activists, who say state officials spurned most of their suggestions for beefing up the rules. The new regulations for about 2,000 of Indiana's largest livestock farms were approved earlier this month by a state panel. They take effect next July. State officials contend the updated rules, which replace restrictions approved six years ago, will provide significant new protections for groundwater and surface water.
Those include barring livestock farmers from spreading manure onto frozen or snow-covered fields as fertilizer, a practice that can taint nearby waterways if rain or snowmelt washes the manure off before it's absorbed into the ground.
But activists said that aside from a handful of improvements, the revised rules fail to adequately protect water quality, public health and communities near big livestock farms – the largest of which can generate as much excrement as a town.
"We offered very constructive and reasonable recommendations and few of our suggestions were incorporated. We think there's still going to be problems," said Tim Maloney, senior policy director of the Hoosier Environmental Council.
He said the rules could have gone further to safeguard the environment from pathogens and nutrients in manure that can flow into nearby waterways, causing algae blooms and threatening public health.
Maloney notes that the rules' ban on spreading manure on frozen or snow-covered fields isn't complete because farmers with less than 120 days of manure storage capacity can seek an exemption if they can demonstrate that their manure lagoon could overflow or experience a breach if they don't spread some of that manure.
He also said the new rules don't provide sufficient setbacks – or buffer zones – between manure lagoons and public water supply wells or public water supply intakes on waterways.
Under the new rules, the manure holding systems can be no closer than 1,000 feet from those drinking water systems, but Maloney said his group and others suggested a setback of 1,500 feet to provide an additional buffer to safeguard water supplies from manure spills.
He said the rules also lack something activists have long sought – bans on building large livestock farms in flood plains and parts of the state with caves, sinkholes and springs. Maloney said it's unwise to build the sprawling farms in flood-prone areas or over porous geology.
But an official with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management said banning the farms in those areas would have significantly limited the state's livestock industry.
Bruce Palin, IDEM's assistant commissioner for the office of land quality, said the agency reviews proposed farms in karst areas to determine whether the local geology might be too sensitive for a farm.
"Not all karst areas are created equal, so it kind of becomes a case-by-case, site-by-site evaluation you have to do," he said.
And farms built in flood plains must have manure storage units built to a height two feet above the local 100-year flood stage, Palin said, to protect them from being inundated by floodwaters.
He also said the revised rules have added for the first time a setback of 400 feet between manure storage units and homes. That provision, however, will apply only to farms permitted after July 2012. Palin said existing farms cannot be expected to move their storage units.
Barbara Sha Cox, a livestock farm activist from Richmond, said she'd hoped for considerably wider setbacks for public buildings, including a two-mile setback for schools to provide a buffer zone for children from dust, ammonia and other particles blown away the farms.
Cox said research shows asthma is more prevalent among children who attend schools near big livestock farms.
"We need to err on the side of caution for our children," she said.
Cox, a third-generation family farm owner, said people who have lived for decades in rural areas deserve protections from big livestock farms with manure lagoons, dust and fetid smells.
She said she's heard from people who have had to cancel school meetings because manure from one of the livestock farms was being spread on nearby fields, filling the air with a stench.
"We have a landscape that was there prior to these farms," Cox said. "Now should they have to adjust and go where they're least harmful – or do we the people have to suffer when they have these huge investments?" PD
—AP newswire report