Zoning decisions ought to limit livestock waste’s contamination of water

This just in from the State of Indiana:

“ISDH (Indiana State Department of Health) cautions Hoosiers of possible high levels of blue-green algae at many of Indiana’s reservoirs and lakes. Swimmers and boaters should be careful in all recreational waters during this time of the year. Precautionary measures include avoiding contact with visible algae and swallowing water while swimming. Take a bath or shower with warm, soapy water after coming in contact with water in ponds and lakes, especially before preparing or consuming food. Pets and livestock should also not be allowed to swim in or drink untreated water from these sources. Exposure to blue-green algae during recreational activities such as swimming, wading, and water-skiing may lead to rashes, skin, eye irritation, and other uncomfortable effects such as nausea, stomach aches, and tingling in fingers and toes. If you should experience any symptoms after water recreational activities, please contact your doctor.”

The ISDH claims there are things we as Hoosiers can do to alleviate these dire circumstances:

Dispose of oil and household chemicals properly

Maintain septic tanks

Find other ways to water livestock

Reduce sediment run-off from fields

Reduce nutrient run-off from fields

Create and enhance riparian corridors

Pick up pet waste

Take care of big issues on small farms

Read the label – use lawn and garden fertilizer wisely

Think before you dig

Picking up pet waste, although the right thing to do, pales in comparison to the millions of gallons of liquid manure, full of phosphorous and nitrogen, that pollute our state and national waterways, from Lake Erie to the Gulf of Mexico. And it is Indiana that contributes to both of these waters’ pollution, significantly.

To borrow from a previous column I wrote in January 2015, Indiana citizens outnumber Indiana hogs only 2-1. Depending on size, a hog can produce as much as 14 gallons of manure a day. None of the hog, cattle or poultry waste is treated, as human waste is. According to the Environmental Working Group, this amounts to 87 million gallons of untreated manure entering Indiana’s ground water and being sprayed into our air and onto our food crops every year.

A lot of this manure is produced right here in Hancock County. Unlike other counties that require a 2-mile setback, financial assurance packages from CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) owners, or even a CAFO moratorium, our county will let an existing CAFO or CFO (Confined Feeding Operation) build within only 750 feet of the city limits, or any property, if the owner is in good standing.

“Good standing” means there hasn’t been a reported spill. But IDEM asks industrial farmers to self-report. Neighbors are usually the ones to report foul play. Following are a couple of violations found on the IDEM Virtual File Cabinet of Public Records:

“Land application [of manure] was being conducted on frozen and snow-covered ground. Land application was applied approximately ten (10) feet from a ditch. Land application on frozen or snow-covered ground is prohibited…”

“The poultry litter was applied 10 feet from roadways, less than 4 feet from property lines and 18 feet from a grassed waterway.”

“Animal mortality compost did not have adequate run-off control measures.”

I will now suggest a few of my own tips to add to the ISDH tips for our Hancock County Commissioners:

1. Create a zoning ordinance that gives cities back the two-mile buffer zone.

2. Repeal the unconstitutional “Right to Farm” ordinance.

3. Act quickly.

4. Make this part of your campaign pledge.

I appreciate the commissioners and the Planning Commission for considering proximity issues in their recent decision making. However, until the ordinances are re-written, this issue is alive and well, and citizens and cities are at risk. The law should be on the side of ordinary citizens, not the lobbyists.

Donna Steele of Greenfield is a member of a variety of community organizations aimed at bettering the city, including Greenfield Main Street and the Greenfield Coalition.