KDHE Hog Factory Ruling Threatens Water Quality and Rural Landowners
By Craig Volland, Chair of the Agricultural Committee
In 1998 the legislature passed legislation requiring that any operation confining more than 3724 animal units, about 9300 mature hogs, must be located at least 500 feet from surface water and 5000 feet from the nearest habitable structure. The old limits were 250 feet and 4000 feet respectively.
On December 11 KDHE issued two permtis allowing a Phillips County hog producer to gift part of his existing breeding operation to a family member so he could expand without meeting the new limits. To grow out his new piglets he is building up to five new operations in Phillips and nearby Norton County. If he follows through on all the new sites that he has registered, there will be 87,000 additional pigs located along Prarie Dog Creek, a major tributary to the Republican River in Nebraska that flows into Kansas. Prairie Dog Creek is already impaired for disssolved oxygen and phosphorus. It also flows into Harlan County Lake, the second largest in Nebraska, which has suffered algae blooms in recent years.
KDHE’s ruling opens up the entire state for other hog producers to use this maneuver to evade state statutes. Since 1998, hog producers have commonly limited the size of their operations to stay under the 3725 animal unit limit. This afforded the neigbors a measure of added protection from offensive odors and airborne pathogens. In 2015 the Kansas Health Institute was concerned enough about air pollution from large hog factories to recommend a three mile setback to residences (http://www.khi.org/assets/uploads/news/13520/aghia_executivesummary_final_2.pdf). With KDHE’s ruling, rural residents’ will be threatened with reduced quality of life and reduced property values when someone locates a huge hog factory next to their home.
Likewise the ruling puts additional pressure on the quality of the state’s surface waters, many of which are already polluted from other damaging agricultural practices. Operations with an unlimited number of hogs can be located within 250 feet of any lake or stream that is not designated as a wildlife refuge. This will have a particularly damaging effect on parts of the states with a higher density of perennial streams.
In September, the Chapter challenged KDHE’s ruling, tentative at that time, and the agency never responded. (See http://kansas.sierraclub.org/kansas-chapter-challenges-kdhe-decision-on-hog-cafo/.)
In December we submitted a detailed comment explaining why KDHE’s decision was in error. Attached to our letter is a graphic that demonstrates just how brazen is this legal fiction.