Indiana gives initial OK to off-site manure ponds

A state panel gave preliminary approval Wednesday to Indiana's first rules governing big stand-alone ponds and lagoons built to hold manure trucked in from livestock farms.

The Environmental Rules Board unanimously approved the draft rules after environmentalists told the panel the regulations aren't tough enough and could turn Indiana into a dumping ground for out-of-state manure.

Since 1971, Indiana has regulated manure storage at the state's large livestock farms where thousands of animals are raised in close quarters. But the new rules are the state's first for "satellite" manure ponds, lagoons, tanks and other structures located off-site of livestock farms that serve as holding basins for manure trucked in from such farms.

The rules, which still need the board's final approval, would apply to earthen ponds, lagoons, tanks and other structures designed to store at least 1 million gallons of manure.

Dave Menzer of the Citizens Action Coalition told the board the draft rules are "grossly inadequate" compared with what's needed to protect Indiana's public health and its water supplies.

He said earthen manure lagoons can fail or leak during heavy rain events and taint the groundwater that rural residents rely on for private wells to provide their drinking water.

Menzer also said he fears the rules detailing the construction, management and operation standards for the manure lagoons will spur an influx of manure from livestock farms in other states.

"We're inviting out-of-state waste in and we're very concerned that this rule does not protect the public health," he told the panel.

Josh Trenary, executive director of the Indiana Pork Advocacy Coalition, disputed that contention, saying the rules would actually make it more difficult to bring manure into Indiana from other states, in part because the storage basins would require state approval.

"It's by no means something that's laying the groundwork for manure coming in from out-of-state," he said.

Instead, Trenary said such lagoons give livestock farmers a chance to sell some of their manure to crop farmers, who apply the liquid waste to their land as an alternative to commercial fertilizer.

Kim Ferraro, the Hoosier Environmental Council's water and agriculture policy director, said the proposed rules for lagoons that she said can be as large as football fields don't provide sufficient buffer zones around sinkholes and other areas with porous limestone geology where surface and groundwater often mix. She said that poses a threat to private wells.

She said manure waste contains not just livestock excrement but animal blood, afterbirths and contaminants such as detergents used in the cleaning of livestock pens.

"It's quite frankly an unconscionable disregard of the environment and the health of people who live in rural communities and rely on well water for their drinking water," Ferraro said.

Bruce Palin, assistant commissioner of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management's office of land quality, said Indiana currently has three off-site manure lagoons, one of which is part of a livestock farm operation but is not located on that farm.

Board chairwoman Beverly Gard, a former state senator, said the panel is expected to tweak the rules in response to some of the issues raised by environmentalists and the board's members before giving its final approval to the regulations, likely early next year.

"Preliminary adoption doesn't necessary mean everyone agrees with everything that's in it," she said.

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