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Pools of concern

Want to add a bathroom to your home? In Indiana you need a permit for that. Want to build a colossal manure lagoon that stores millions of gallons of waste from thousands of animals? At the moment, you don’t need a permit as long as you are not also operating a confined animal feeding operation on the property.

The greatest hazard related to CAFOs is how to safely manage the massive amounts of manure that are produced along with the milk, meat, eggs or poultry. The Indiana Department of Environmental Management has the authority to regulate large animal feeding operations, including manure management, under the federal Clean Water Act. But the agency does not regulate manure storage operations that are located on a different property.

Unregulated satellite manure storage presents a huge danger to public safety and the state’s environment. The lagoons can easily leak, contaminating nearby water resources.

In 2011, state lawmakers tried to fix the massive lapse in oversight. Legislators passed a law giving IDEM the authority to regulate satellite manure storage structures, including any “building, lagoon, pad, pit or tank that is not located at a livestock or poultry production area and is designed to store at least 1,000,000 gallons of manure or 5,000 cubic yards of manure.”

But two years have passed since the law went into effect, and state environmental management officials have so far failed to develop regulations or issue a single satellite manure storage permit.

According to Barry Sneed, an IDEM spokesman, there are only two satellite lagoons in Indiana of which the agency is aware. Both are located in Henry County, east of Indianapolis and south of Muncie.

IDEM posted the first notice for public comment on proposed rules regulating satellite manure lagoons on June 26. That is one of the first steps in the rulemaking and permitting process required by the 2011 law.

Sneed said the agency got approval from Gov. Mike Pence’s administration to start the rule-making process on June 12.

Pence’s moratorium on any new regulatory rules explains the agency’s delay for the last six months. But the environmental management department had the 18 months preceding Pence’s inauguration to comply with the law.

The problem with satellite manure lagoons was brought to lawmakers’ attention after residents complained about damage to local roads caused by a CAFO owner in Randolph Country trucking his manure to one of the satellite lagoons in Henry County.

According to an April 2010 story in the Winchester News-Gazette, a Randolph County commissioner blamed the manure-hauling traffic for the damage and said it cost the county $85,000 to repair less than a mile of a county road.

Sneed said that IDEM was not concerned about leakage at the satellite lagoons in Henry County because they were built with the same standards as manure pits on regulated animal operations.

“We did send an inspector out to look at it per their request,” Sneed said. “That brought to their attention that there weren’t specifications. And those specifications are basically there to protect the waters of the state.”

The story also indicated that the owner of the Union-Go Dairy CAFO was trucking waste to the satellite manure lagoon because of problems with the IDEM-approved manure lagoon located at the dairy.

Most farmers are good stewards of the land. They depend on environmental regulations to protect natural resources from the handful of operators who are not. IDEM has a responsibility to develop sound regulations that protect the environment and the farmers committed to protecting resources.