Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Are CAFOs to Blame for Polluting Our Lakes?

Today's Indianapolis Star (Indy Star) contained a story about algae blooms in Indianapolis' Geist Reservoir.  According to what the Indy Star deemed a "nonscientific assessment" conducted by the Environmental Law and Policy Center, Geist Reservoir is contaminated with "phosphorus runoff, which comes from fertilizer, farm sediments, pet waste and septic-system leaks and causes the algae blooms."   But are CAFOs, or what many derogatorily call "factory farms," to blame?
Many good-intentioned water conservation groups are quick to point the finger at CAFOs as the greatest threat to state and national waters.  As explained in today's Indy Star: 
"There's a host of problems that should be addressed," said Peter Gray, a spokesman for the Environmental Law & Policy Center. "You would hope (public officials) would take the lead and try to protect the resources of their state."
Gray's organization said Indiana's political leaders have largely failed to protect clean water and called on the state to provide "solutions like statewide pollution limits for phosphorus and better water quality standards for factory farms."
What Mr. Gray may not realize is that CAFOs are already the most highly regulated farms in Indiana.  CAFOs are subject to the federal Clean Water Act and are required to regulate the amount of phosphorus placed onto farmland so that it is commensurate with amount utilized by the next growing crop.  Smaller farms in Indiana--Indiana's confined animal feeding operations (CFO)--will soon be required to regulate the amount of phosphorus they place on farmland too.  Indiana's Water Pollution Control Board is set to promulgate new regulations on November 9, 2011.  These regulations will limit phosphorus according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) guidelines.

Moreover, Indiana's CAFOs are designed to operate as zero discharge operations.  Real factories, on the other hand, can obtain permits under the Clean Water Act that allow for discharges into state waters.  And the potential penalties for CAFOs violating state and federal water regulations are harsh--up to $25,000 per day.

It's too easy to blame CAFOs for polluting our lakes.  But don't say that CAFOs are not well regulated, because that is, from this ag lawyer's point of view, just not true.

The Indy Star's article can be found here.
The new confined feeding operation regulations can be found here.
The Environmental Law and Policy Center's CAFO report can be found here.  

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