Iowans seek to halt large-scale livestock buildings

Call for moratorium on construction, other restrictions

State Rep. Sharon Steckman (right), D-Mason City, addresses a Statehouse rally Tuesday organized by members of the Iowa Alliance for Responsible Agriculture. The alliance supports legislation seeking to limit the building or expanding of confinement animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in Iowa. (Rod Boshart/Gazette Des Moines Bureau)
State Rep. Sharon Steckman (right), D-Mason City, addresses a Statehouse rally Tuesday organized by members of the Iowa Alliance for Responsible Agriculture. The alliance supports legislation seeking to limit the building or expanding of confinement animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in Iowa. (Rod Boshart/Gazette Des Moines Bureau)

DES MOINES — Community activists and organizers flooded the Capitol rotunda Tuesday demanding more regulation and a halt to construction of large-scale livestock projects that are threatening Iowa’s air, water and quality of life, especially in rural areas.

“Enough is enough,” said Bill Stowe, CEO and general manager of the Des Moines Water Works, which spent $1.5 million in 2015 to removed nitrates from the city’s water supply.

Stowe joined a coalition of 27 state, community and national groups in calling on state lawmakers to cap the growth of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) until Iowa has fewer than 100 water impairments and the state’s water quality has improved significantly.

Members of the Iowa Alliance for Responsible Agriculture rallied at the Statehouse in favor of 15 bills introduced by Ocheyedan independent Sen. David Johnson.

The legislation seeks a moratorium on building or expanding CAFOs and proposals to review and “repair” Iowa’s master matrix law used in the permitting and siting of large-scale livestock feeding facilities. The proposals are supported by officials in about 20 Iowa counties, organizers said.

Johnson, who introduced himself as a “recovering local control denier,” said the legislative changes he is seeking are in response to concerns he has heard from Iowans facing a rapid and — in many cases — unwanted rapid increase in the construction of livestock buildings.

“They say it’s time to get tough on poor siting of hog confinements, including those being built in environmentally sensitive areas, and locating CAFOs where the smell and sound of someone else’s money is in your bedroom every night,” he said. “It’s happening in all four corners of the state and everywhere in between.”

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Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City, who has filed several companion pieces in the House to Johnson’s bills, said Iowa has more impaired waterways than ever before, at a time when “water is the new liquid gold in our communities and in our country.”

Sue George, a Howard County resident, expressed concern that livestock facilities are being built on environmentally fragile terrain in northeast Iowa.

Livestock producer Chris Peterson lamented the loss of 94 percent of Iowa’s independent pig farmers due to the “explosive growth of industrial hog-feeding operations moving in, which have caused massive health, environmental and quality-of-life issues across the state.”

Johnson said alliance members were not just pointing out problems but were offering solutions.

“At a time when the DNR livestock compliance division has been literally cut to the bone, it’s time for the Legislature act,” he said.

Sen. Ken Rozenboom, R-Oskaloosa, chairman of the Senate Natural Resources and Environment Committee, met with alliance representatives Tuesday but did not give favorable chances for a moratorium bill to move through the legislative process this session.

“I think that’s very unlikely,” Rozenboom said in the interview. “We’re trying to grow Iowa and make Iowa prosperous for our citizens. and I don’t think a moratorium is an answer. We have rules on livestock sites and facilities, and I think as long as we keep an eye on that, I think they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing, and I just don’t think a moratorium is a good answer.”

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