Don’t back down: Protect our water

FEBRUARY 11, 2010

This state long took it for granted that farm-field runoff would pollute our waterways. Then the 2009 Legislature passed a bill that prohibits spreading manure on snow-covered or frozen ground. It has flaws, but acknowledges the need for better stewardship. 
Now, two bills in the 2010 Legislature aim to weaken the 2009 law. House File 2324 and Senate File 2229 would exempt confinement feeding operations built before last July 1 – and not expanded after that – from having to construct or expand a manure storage structure to comply with the law. That would, in effect, allow some producers to spread manure on snow-covered ground during the ban from Dec. 21 to April 1.

Lawmakers should reject this effort to undermine the 2009 law. 
Rules the Iowa Department of Natural Resource proposes to put the 2009 law in place would require all larger producers without sufficient manure storage capacity to look for alternatives – such as a neighbor with an empty pit. But they somehow would have to come up with sufficient capacity to get through the winter, said Wayne Gieselman, Iowa’s environmental protection chief. 
Arguing the other side, Eldon McAfee, an attorney for livestock interests, said the bills should pass because some older operations, primarily dairy, don’t have enough storage to get through the winter without applying manure. They had no way of anticipating the 2009 law, he said. Eventually they want to build adequate storage, but many cannot afford to do it now.

And state Rep. Ray Zirkelbach, a Monticello Democrat, noted if producers pollute waterways, they would be held responsible. 
About 5,500 confinements in Iowa – hog and dairy operations – are affected by the law. 
Gieselman said 43 have asked for permission to spread manure on frozen or snow-covered ground for a variety of reasons. Every request has been authorized, recognizing they may need time to adapt to the law. 
That also suggests the number of operations that will have problems meeting the 2009 law is relatively small.

But even if it were large, the Legislature should keep its commitment to reduce pollution in rivers and lakes. 
One of many reasons: Overloading the Mississippi River Basin with nitrogen and phosphorus robs the Gulf of Mexico of oxygen, strangling aquatic life in the "Dead Zone." 
"Spreading on snow-covered ground is a horrible … practice," said Gieselman. "If you ever drove by a snow-covered field with liquid manure on it, the snow melts off it about three days faster than usual. Very little of the nutrients are preserved."

It’s fair to give producers a grace period so they have time to come up with adequate manure storage capacity. 
It’s wrong to back away from sound environmental policy.