Guest Columnist

Livestock matrix fix is no pollution solution

Bigalk Creek is seen in rural Howard county on Friday, Oct. 13, 2017. A group of concerned landowners in Howard County came together to form a covenant to restrict the development of contained animal feeding operations, also known by the acronym CAFO. Landowners are worried about the potential for groundwater contamination, as well as runoff into area trout streams. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Bigalk Creek is seen in rural Howard county on Friday, Oct. 13, 2017. A group of concerned landowners in Howard County came together to form a covenant to restrict the development of contained animal feeding operations, also known by the acronym CAFO. Landowners are worried about the potential for groundwater contamination, as well as runoff into area trout streams. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

On Sept. 30, three Hamilton County supervisors gave their view in The Gazette of the matrix used to evaluate large concentrated animal feeding operations. The Sierra Club sympathizes with the supervisors in their frustration with the proliferation of animal feeding operations and the inability to effectively control the pollution from these operations.

Unfortunately, the proposal set forth by the supervisors to address the problem falls short of what is needed.

First, we need a moratorium on the construction of new animal feeding operations to stop the problem from becoming worse. When you have dug yourself into a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging. The supervisors are correct that a moratorium is not a long-term solution, but it prevents further harm until a solution is found.

Second, the Sierra Club does not believe there is an adequate way to improve the matrix. The matrix does not address the real problems with animal feeding operations. It puts the burden on county government and prevents the neighbors, who are the ones actually affected, from contesting a permit. And it only applies to large animal feeding operations. So the operators design their operations for an animal limit just under the threshold to require a matrix review.

Wouldn’t complete local control be a better way to protect the people of a county? The producers will say that they need uniform statewide rules. But we have county zoning, county health ordinances, and other county ordinances. Local control of livestock production would be no different.

The most disappointing suggestion the supervisors made in their guest opinion was that a work group should be formed to modify the matrix. They say this group should be limited to producers, university experts and Department of Natural Resources staff. But the supervisors leave out their own constituents who are most affected and public interest groups, like the Sierra Club, that would bring a needed balance to the process. Otherwise, the process will not accomplish the positive change the supervisors envision.

Finally, we wholeheartedly agree with the supervisors that the candidates for governor and legislative candidates must be confronted continuously and repeatedly before the election to demand that they take action.

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Right now, the Iowa Legislature holds the keys to the solution to the pollution problems created by concentrated animal feeding operations.

• Pam Mackey-Taylor is director of the Iowa chapter of the Sierra Club.

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