By Paul Sobocinski, Land Stewardship Project
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s Citizens’ Board ruled this week that Riverview LLP’s proposed 8,850-cow dairy operation in Stevens County must undergo an in-depth Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). To my knowledge, this is the first time that the MPCA has ordered an EIS of a factory farm.
This is a good decision. An EIS will allow the proposal’s negative impacts on water quality and quantity, local roads and existing independent family dairy farms to be fully analyzed before the project is allowed to seek a permit.
The proposed operation in Baker Township would house 8,850 cows and 500 heifers, making it among the largest operations of its kind in the state. Riverview LLP is already the largest dairy-producing firm in Minnesota, owning several other massive operations throughout this state, as well as South Dakota. In total, Riverview LLP owns over 45,000 cows, according to a 2013 article in Beef Magazine.
Fortunately, the MPCA Citizens’ Board took a careful look at concerns raised by neighbors and voted 6-1 for an EIS on Aug. 26. Water quantity and quality were chief among neighbors’ concerns. Many streams in the Pomme de Terre watershed, where the factory farm is proposed, are already polluted.
Another concern was that the cumulative impacts of already existing large feedlots, especially Riverview LLP-owned operations, needs to be assessed, including the impacts on water availability. Riverview LLP has four large operations in Stevens County, each over 5,000 cows. One has over 6,000 cows and is within six miles of the proposed operation. If approved, the Baker Township dairy alone would use almost 100 million gallons of water annually.
Neighbors to the proposed dairy are very concerned about hydrogen sulfide and its effects on their health. Hydrogen sulfide is a gas given off by liquid manure lagoons. Exposure to low levels of hydrogen sulfide over time can cause respiratory problems, headaches, eye irritation, insomnia, nausea and dizziness. If exposure is chronic, it can impact neurological functioning and cause more serious lung problems.
Hydrogen sulfide modeling for the proposed Riverview LLP operation indicates that the levels of hydrogen sulfide produced will be near the public health threshold. An MPCA Citizens’ Board member raised concerns that, if the Riverview LLP operation is approved, on-going monitoring for hydrogen sulfide must be required, and that this health concern should not be simply addressed through computer modeling.
Just as importantly, an EIS of the Riverview proposal will address socio-economic impacts. For example, many moderately-sized and beginning farmers in the area are concerned that the Riverview LLP operations push land prices to unaffordable levels. As a hog and beef farmer myself, I know that livestock operations on diversified family farms are essential to stewardship of the land and rural economic prosperity.
Factory farms like Riverview’s, however, displace family farms and generate many millions of gallons of raw liquid manure which is a waste product that is inevitably over-applied on neighboring fields. The MPCA Citizens’ Board decision was the right one for family farmers, the land and rural Minnesota.
Land Stewardship Project organizer Paul Sobocinski raises crops and livestock in southwestern Minnesota’s Redwood County. He can be reached at 507-342-2323 or firstname.lastname@example.org.