by Mark A. Kuhn, courtesy The Des Moines Register

As one of 12 legislators who drafted the bill in 2002 that created the Master Matrix, a current member of the Floyd County Board of Supervisors tasked with reviewing Master Matrix applications, and a lifelong Iowa farmer, I have a unique perspective on the Master Matrix, its failings and how it could be improved.

I support the recent petition presented by the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and Food & Water Watch because it is needed to restore balance to a system that has failed to adequately protect the rights of all Iowans, and certain precious natural resources unique to different counties, such as Karst topography in northeast Iowa.

TAKE ACTION! Add your name to the list of Iowans that demand stronger factory farm rules.

The Master Matrix is a scoring system that awards points for livestock producers who adopt additional practices greater than the minimum required by state law. Points are awarded for increasing the minimum separated distances between concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and churches, residences, public-use areas, and bodies of water. More restrictive manure management practices score additional points. The Master Matrix has a total of 44 questions that could result in a perfect score of 880 points, but only 440 points are required to get a passing grade.

The Department of Natural Resources’ analysis of the Master Matrix shows that certain questions pertaining to separated distances are easy to score points on and nearly every application does. Points are also awarded for practices, such as concrete manure storage structures, that are the industry standard. Other questions requiring air-quality monitoring, the installation of filters to reduce odors, demonstrating community support, implementing a worker safety and protection plan, or adopting an approved comprehensive nutrient management plan are almost never answered.

Once an applicant achieves the minimum required points, they are not required to answer any further questions. It is a pass-fail test that has failed Iowans. It is out of date and needs to be changed.

The process also puts unreasonable time restrictions on counties. Once an application is received, a county has only 30 days to review the application for accuracy, call for a public hearing by publishing notice in official county newspapers, conduct the hearing, and make a recommendation to the DNR whether to approve the application or not. If the county doesn’t deny the permit, the DNR will approve it without any review.

To make matters worse, neither the applicant nor the company responsible for preparing the application is required to attend the public hearing to answer questions about the proposed CAFO. This happened twice recently in Floyd County, leading to misinformation and distrust between livestock producers and their neighbors.

It’s no wonder that Floyd County is one of 13 Iowa counties that passed resolutions or sent letters to leaders of the Legislature and former Gov. Branstad, asking them to strengthen the Master Matrix. But those efforts at the local level fell on deaf ears in Des Moines. The Legislature and Branstad did nothing.

A bill by Sen. David Johnson (I-Ocheyedan), calling for a review of the Master Matrix by the advisory committee that originally established it was never given a hearing in the Senate Ag committee. Another bill authored by Rep. Mike Sexton (R-Rockwell City) that required the DNR to include additional water-quality criteria in the Master Matrix suffered the same fate in the House Ag committee.

However, the Legislature did see fit to approve a nuisance lawsuit protection bill for CAFO owners that limits monetary damages and lawsuits to one per lifetime. This bill was pushed by the livestock industry in retaliation to Iowans who are forced to resort to litigation because they can no longer enjoy their own property.

As a lifelong farmer, I know the value that Iowa livestock producers add to the corn and soybeans I grow. With only 2 percent of all Master Matrix applications ever denied by the DNR since the law was created in 2002, I also know the current system is weighted heavily in favor of the livestock industry.

The livestock industry and the agri-business lobby have been successful for decades in dividing Iowans on this issue by labeling any legislator who supports change as being opposed to modern agriculture and the next generation of young farmers, while ignoring the real issue: Iowans have the right to breathe clean air, drink clean water and enjoy their quality of life.

This issue is too important to Iowa’s future to be reduced to the politics of division. It is not a rural vs. urban issue. It is a neighbor vs. neighbor issue. There are plenty of rural residents and farmers just like me who support Iowa’s livestock industry, but object to a confinement barn with thousands of squealing hogs or hundreds of thousands of chickens to be built 1,875 feet from their residence, and allow the untreated waste from those animals to be spread immediately adjacent to their homes and farmsteads.

That’s why I support the petition for changes to the Master Matrix. It doesn’t call for local control of siting or a moratorium on new construction. It works within the existing system to balance the scale of justice for all Iowans.

MARK A. KUHN is the owner/operator of the Kuhn family farm, a member of the Floyd County Board of Supervisors (1992-98 and 2011-present), and a former Democratic state representative (1999-2010).

 

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IOWA’S “MANURE SPILL SEASON”

IN FULL FORCE

 

 

Iowans Demand EPA Return To Iowa To Force Factory Farm Compliance With The Clean Water Act

 

 

According to DNR records there have been at least five factory farm spills that reached Iowa waterways in the past three weeks:

  • FISH KILL: Osceola & Clay County – factory farm egg washing liquid dumped in Stony Creek polluting 18.2 miles of stream and killing 163,001 fish
  • FISH KILL: Cherokee County – Bear Creek, source unknown
  • FISH KILL: Buchanan County – factory farm manure overflowed from manure pit and entered West Branch Pine Creek
  • Mahaska County – valve on manure tank failed and 3,000 gallons of factory farm manure entered a tributary of the Skunk River
  • FISH KILL: Allamakee County – manure application equipment broke and 1,000 gallons of factory farm manure entered Clark Creek

 

 

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (CCI) members are outraged at the number of manure spills occurring in Iowa each year during what many call “manure spill season.”

“Right now, as crops are being harvested, thousands of factory farms across the state are starting to spread upwards of 10 billion gallons of toxic, untreated manure on Iowa farmland,” said Rosie Partridge, conservationist and small business owner in Wall Lake, Iowa. “We’re seeing equipment breaks, pits overflow, and careless practices like spreading manure on highly erodible land, on steep slopes and near waterways.  At what point is there too much manure in Iowa?  I think we passed that point a long time ago.”

CCI members say the DNR needs to start holding this industry accountable for polluting Iowa’s waterways.

“In 2012 the EPA investigated the DNR and found that the DNR has an inadequate inspection program, fails to respond to spills, and does not issue fines and penalties that deter future pollution,” said Larry Ginter, a retired family farmer from Rhodes, Iowa. “It’s 2015 and nothing has changed. The EPA needs to come back to Iowa and make the DNR implement the Clean Water Act with teeth.”

Like the Des Moines Water Works lawsuit, CCI members want the DNR to implement and enforce the Clean Water Act for factory farms. CCI members believe that Clean Water Act permits, tough fines and penalties and on-site inspections that find and fix problems will drastically reduce the amount of manure polluting Iowa’s waterways each year.

“We’re sick and tired of corporate agriculture being exempt from any laws and regulations meant to protect people and the environment; they should be held to the same standards as every other industry in Iowa,” said Ginter. “Isn’t it obvious that voluntary doesn’t work?”

CCI members will be meeting with the DNR on November 3 to address the lack of enforcement and regulation of Manure Management Plans and application.

Iowa’s more than 20 million hogs confined in thousands of factory farms produce nearly ten billion gallons of toxic manure every year. There have been more than 800 documented manure spills since 1996 and Iowa currently has more than 725 polluted waterways.

 

Join the Fight

  • Factory farm proposing to build near you? Have concerns about an existing facility? We can work with you and your community to fight back and stand up for clean air and water and your quality of life.

Learn more

 

 

DNR/EPA CLEAN WATER ACT WORKPLAN AGREEMENT FAILS TO PREVENT MANURE SPILLS

2 Years Since Historic Clean Water Act Agreement And Still No Permits For Hog Factory Farms

 

Des Moines, IA.  In early August Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) submitted its 2-year progress report of the precedent-setting Work Plan Agreement between the DNR and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to implement the Clean Water Act (CWA) for factory farms in Iowa. Iowa CCI is calling out the DNR for the lack of detail in the report about the outcome of DNR inspections and why no Clean Water Act permits have been issued.

Click here to view DNR’s 2015 Clean Water Act Annual Progress Report.

“This is an absolute disgrace.  We’ve been saying for 8 years that the DNR is failing to do its job to hold factory farms accountable for their pollution and sadly we’re proven right,” said Larry Ginter, CCI member and family farmer from Rhodes, Iowa.  “We’ve already had at least 17 manure spills this year.  If DNR was completing good inspections, you’d think the number of manure spills would go down significantly each year, but it doesn’t.”

The DNR agreed to assess twenty percent of Iowa’s 8,500+ factory farm facilities each year to determine which operations need permits.  The 2-year progress report states they have completed 41% over the past two years.

The DNR touts the number of inspections as a success but CCI members think otherwise.

“It’s not just about the quantity of inspections – it’s about the quality of inspections,”  said Ginter.  “Who cares how many you’ve completed if they don’t result in anything but more pollution?”

The Work Plan also required the DNR to “timely issue [Clean Water Act] permits that meet federal requirements to all CAFOs that DNR determines discharge to Waters of the U.S.”

According to DNR records, since the Work Plan was signed on September 11, 2013 there have been at least 99 documented manure spills in Iowa yet the DNR failed to issue a single Clean Water Act permit to any of the polluting hog factory farms.

Barb Lynch, DNR Chief of Field Services and Compliance was quoted saying ‘Since the majority of larger facilities in Iowa are confinements, with animals housed under a roof and state law requiring manure containment, most facilities we inspect do not have problems with manure runoff’.

However, water data collected from Iowa’s 2014 list of impaired waterways shows manure as one of the leading cause of impaired waterways in Iowa lakes and rivers.  CCI members say this and the fact the DNR has issued no CWA permits shows how the DNR continues to work for factory farm corporations by misleading the public about the cause of Iowa’s polluted waterways and not holding them accountable for the pollution they create.

Also, CWA permits aren’t just targeted at runoff problems, they are for any kind of pollution discharge leaving a facility.

“We see dozens of cases of factory farms with multiple manure spills,” said Barb Kalbach, 4th generation family farmer from Dexter.  “Any factory farm that has a discharge needs a CWA permit and needs to be held accountable, not just a slap on the wrist.”

Another demand of the DNR to meet the Clean Water Act Work Plan is “to implement enforcement program that ensures penalties are sought in accordance with DNR’s [Enforcement Management System] and creates a stronger deterrent to noncompliance”.

In the past 2 years, DNR has only issued 23 Administrative Orders and 1 Attorney General referral against factory farm polluters with manure spills or other violations.  That means out of the 99 polluters, 75 of them received no meaningful penalty for their manure spill.  CCI members believe that the lack of penalties sends a message to the industry that manure spills are just a cost of doing business.

DNR is also failing to meet the final Work Plan requirement, which is to keep the public informed of its Work Plan progress.  So far the Work Plan progress updates have been vague and contain very little real information. The annual report lacks detail about the outcome of inspections and why no Clean Water Act permits have been issued to a hog factory farm.

“The 2-year report lacks detail,” said Kalbach. “DNR provided no detail on the outcome of assessments and how they determined that a factory farm does not need a CWA permit. The DNR needs to take a presumption that every factory farm has a potential to discharge and therefore every factory farm has the duty to apply for a permit.”

“This Work Plan will only be successful if it leads to real oversight of factory farm pollution in Iowa. That means serious inspections, strong permits, and enforcement actions that ensure it doesn’t pay to pollute. DNR hasn’t shown that it takes permitting seriously, and EPA should step in and conduct independent investigations of Iowa manure spills,” said Jess Mazour, Farm & Environment Organizer at Iowa CCI.

CCI members are calling on the DNR to strengthen the Clean Water Act implementation with four demands:

  1. Issue a Clean Water Act Permit to every factory farm in Iowa.
  2. Complete quality on-site inspections that find problems and fix problems.
  3. Issue tough fines and penalties that deter future pollution.
  4. Create a transparent database of manure spills, inspections and details of specific factory farms.

Iowa’s more than 20 million hogs confined in thousands of factory farms produce nearly ten billion gallons of toxic manure every year.  There have been more than 800 documented manure spills since 1996 and Iowa currently has more than 725 polluted waterways.

 

Don’t Put All Your Eggs In One Basket
How the factory farm model exacerbates the Bird Flu Epidemic

Chicken and turkey factory farms cram thousands, even millions, of birds into one facility.  This model of raising livestock creates the perfect conditions for diseases like the Avian Bird Flu that has spread across Iowa and Minnesota.

  • Birds in factory farms are unhealthy to begin with. Birds in confined unsanitary conditions have decreased immune systems that make it more difficult to fight off disease. This means the disease can spread quickly, infecting every bird in the facility before it’s detected.  Birds on small family farms are less dense and controlling the spread of the disease could be easier.
  • Birds in factory farms are almost genetically identical. This means when one bird becomes infected the entire flock will become infected. Birds on small family farms have varying genetics so some birds may not be affected by the spread of the disease.
  • Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. The factory farm model of raising chickens and turkeys creates a system that could collapse and create an economic crisis as we’re seeing with the recent Avian Bird Flu Epidemic. Small family farms can be quarantined quicker and because they are spread out, could isolate the crisis without taking a big hit to the market.

Before Iowa Governor Branstad throws more taxpayer money and resources in to cleaning up this factory farm created crisis Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, United State Department of Agriculture, and other involved agencies need to answer the following questions publically to ensure these factory farms do not cut environmental corners in the cleanup just to get birds back into the building:

  • What is the full emergency plan to fix this crisis?
  • What methods/chemicals/gases will be used to kill all the birds?
  • What will happen to the birds after they are dead?
  • Will the dead birds be spread on the land and if so, what effects will the chemicals used to kill the birds have on soil, water and air? What chemicals are in the fire retardant foam and will this be spread on the land?
  • Will the dead birds be tested for remnants of the virus before being spread on the land?
  • Millions of dead birds will create quite a stink in rural Iowa, what is your plan to ensure neighbors will not lose their quality of life while the birds are decomposing?
  • Are there any reports of natural birds being affected by this flu?
  • If industry and government officials say this was caused by migratory birds, where are the dead migratory birds and how many have you found?
  • Are any of the factory farms receiving their chicks from the same hatchery?
  • What is the expected cost to taxpayers for this clean-up? (This is an industry that is already heavily subsidized by taxpayers.)
  • How will the industry be held accountable for creating the conditions where disease, like the Avian Bird Flu, can spread rampant and crash an entire sector of the economy?
  • How much are factory farm owners receiving per bird in compensation costs? What’s the total payout so far?

How the industry is already heavily taxpayer subsidized:

  • sales tax exemptions on feed; ($219.6 million in 2010 across all factory farms)
  • sales tax exemption on energy used to heat and cool buildings; ($9.1 million in 2010 across all factory farms)
  • sales tax exemption on implements of animal husbandry ($34.4 million in 2010 across all ag)
  • sales tax exemption on domesticated fowl ($8.9 million in 2010)
  • sales tax exemption on lab tests for livestock (including fowl) ($3.5 million in 2010)
  • other sales tax exemptions… (fowl bedding, etc)
  • property tax exemptions allowing them to be taxed at the rate of the ag land they occupy, rather than the taxable “productivity” value of the building.

Clean Water Act (CWA) permits hold factory farms to higher standards and it can shut them down!  As of today, the DNR has not issued a single Clean Water Act permit to a hog factory farm in Iowa.

Here’s why Clean Water Act permits can be game-changers as we build a farming system that works for People and the Planet!

  • Broader coverage of enforcement
    • CWA permits must prevent discharges from the production area as well as land application areas. Iowa’s Manure Management Plans (MMPs) only address land application areas.
  • More transparency
    • When permits are proposed the public must be given notice of the proposed permit and an opportunity to comment on it. NPDES permits, and all associated reports, must be publicly accessible.
  • Fixed terms
    • Unlike Iowa’s MMPs, CWA permits have fixed five-year terms. That way, they are subject to being reviewed, updated, or terminated on a regular basis. DNR admitted in an Ag Appropriations Sub-Committee this year that DNR does not review MMPs because they do not have the capacity to do so.
  • Operation & maintenance requirements
    • CWA permits have operation and maintenance requirements so that factory farm operators prevent problems before they happen. Currently, factory farm owners may have to fix a problem after a discharge, but aren’t required to use basic practices that would prevent many discharges in the first place.
  • Higher penalties for violations
    • State law caps penalties at $5,000 per day per violation and the state cannot collect more than $10,000 per violation. Under the CWA, penalties are up to $37,500 per day per violation, which would include penalties for discharges or other violations of a permit. Higher penalties mean greater deterrence from pollution. When facilities have NPDES permits, permit violations are also CWA violations that can warrant these heightened penalties, even if the violation does not cause a discharge to a surface water.

If you think the Iowa DNR should start issuing Clean Water Act permits to polluters, join the fight!

 

Join the Fight

Factory farm proposing to build near you? Have concerns about an existing facility? We can work with you and your community to fight back and stand up for clean air and water and your quality of life.

 

As of January 22nd, 2015 fifteen counties still need to submit their Master Matrix resolutions to the DNR by January 31st, 2015! Those counties are:

Adams

Crawford

Decatur

Des Moines

Iowa

Jasper

Keokuk

Lee

Mahaska

Osceola

Plymouth

Pocahontas

Wapello

Warren

Washington

SKMBT_42315012218420One of the tools that communities have in the fight against unwanted factory farms is the Master Matrix, a scoring system for proposed sites that the builder must pass. The Master Matrix is an imperfect tool, but it provides communities with a minimal level of protection against factory farms being built in their communities. In addition, if the county chooses to use the Master Matrix, then applicants must meet stricter environmental standards than they would have to meet otherwise.

However, each county Board of Supervisors must pass the Master Matrix each year before January 31st. So far, 84 counties have passed the Master Matrix. Below, you’ll find all these counties shaded in green (click the image to make it larger).

*NOTE* If you know that your county’s Board of Supervisors has passed the Master Matrix and it’s not reflected on this map the reason is that we have not yet received confirmation from the DNR that they have received your county’s resolution. The DNR updates us directly one to two times per week for the month of January. Your supervisors need to have it postmarked to the DNR by January 31st, 2015!*

 3 simple steps to passing the Master Matrix in your county

1) Call your County Supervisors and ask them to put it on the next Supervisor meeting agenda if they haven’t already;

2) If they have passed the Master Matrix, make sure they sent a copy to the DNR – they have to do  this before  January 31st or it doesn’t count.

Your County Supervisors should mail it to:

Jerah Sheets, IDNR, 502 East 9th Street, Des Moines, IA 50319-0034

OR

Fax it to (515) 725 – 8202

3) Call CCI at 515-282-0484 and let us know so we can keep track and make sure every county passes the  Master Matrix!

If you live in any of the above counties in orange and you care about protecting your air, water, and quality of life, call Carrie at Iowa CCI at (515) 282-0484 to find out how you can get your supervisors to pass the matrix today!

 

Join the Fight

Factory farm proposing to build near you? Have concerns about an existing facility? We can work with you and your community to fight back and stand up for clean air, clean water, and your quality of life.