CAFO = Confined (or Concentrated) Animal Feeding Operation
Okay – anyone know what a flood plain is? Or what its purpose is? Take the words at face value. Flood plain. Well, just in case someone doesn’t know what a flood plain is, I will elaborate by starting with a little river history.
Rivers are dynamic systems. Many older rivers located in the eastern United States tend to meander as they get older. The meander of a river results in a process which “cuts” and “deposits” as the river flows through its channel. The cutting or erosion occurs on the outside edge and pulls soil and material away from that edge.
As the river cuts on the outside edge, it deposits soil and material on the inside edge. Over thousands of years, the river will actually double back and draw close enough in certain areas that when a flood occurs, a new channel cuts across the exaggerated loop and creates an oxbow lake. The diagram below shows the process creating an oxbow lake.
The Google Earth photo below shows what appear to be a couple of oxbow lakes in northern Allen County along the St. Joe River. The one at the bottom left is more pronounced in shape than the one in the upper right. The oxbows eventually become tree-lined, dry river beds.
But, back to flood plains. A flood plain is the nearly flat plain along the course of a stream or river that is naturally subject to flooding. As a river floods, it tops its banks and the waters spread outward, sometimes for miles. As the water recedes and the river returns to its channel, deposits of all types are left in the flood plain. And, conversely, the river takes its share of material from the surrounding area as it slowly creeps back into its channel.
Now that I have painted a picture of river processes and what happens in flood plains, I want you to close your eyes and imagine dropping a couple of CAFOs onto the flood plain – you know, like those little houses we used to play with in the Monopoly game. The picture below shows a CAFO in North Carolina along the Neuse River.
The CAFOs are in place and along comes a flood. I don’t think it takes much imagination to see what will happen. Those rectangle ponds are manure pits – each holding thousands of gallons of manure. The river rises and tops its banks and shinnies right over to the ponds. The river mixes with the manure and carries it outward from the manure pits. The manure-laden river will leave some of its cargo on the flood plain to be washed into the ground, ultimately to reach underground aquifers which are an important source of well water.
Then, as the river withdraws back into its channel, it takes a little gift right along with it – gallons and gallons of manure mixed with river water to be carried downstream. Given this scenario, you would think that careful planners would not allow CAFOs to be built in flood plains. And you would be wrong.
The LaPorte County Commissioners have approved an ordinance which contains a provision regulating test wells for CAFOs built in flood plains. Ye gads! Why would anyone want to allow a CAFO to be built in a flood plain knowing the disastrous results if a flood occurred. It isn’t a matter of if a river will flood; it is a question of when.
LA PORTE – An ordinance to regulate concentrated animal feeding operations – that is, factory farms – was approved on first reading at the County Commissioners meeting Tuesday by a 2-1 vote.
Two provisions in the CAFO ordinance are intended to head off potential contamination of groundwater. If adopted, the ordinance will require new CAFOs in flood plains to have test wells and allow sampling by the county Health Department to check for nitrates and bacteria. In addition, new CAFOs must locate waste management systems to meet requirements of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which issues a “floodproofing certificate.”
The Plan Commission approved the ordinance July 31 on a 7-1 vote, and sent it on to commissioners for final approval. Commissioners voted to carry the ordinance over to the next meeting for final consideration.
The lone vote against the CAFO ordinance came from Commissioner Mike Bohacek, D-Michiana Shores, who said he is concerned about allowing new CAFOs to be developed in flood plains, even if samples from test wells on the property are used to check for contamination.
Mitch Bishop, county planner, began developing the ordinance a year ago, with the help of a six-member citizens’ group representing about 50 animal producers in the county. Bishop said he originally wanted to prohibit new CAFOs in flood plains, but realized there needed to be a middle ground. More than 40,000 acres of county agricultural land is in flood plains.
I am curious, just what is the middle ground? Either the CAFO is in the flood plain or it is not. How many of us would want a CAFO in a flood plain near our homes. River flooding is a tough enough issue as it is without adding thousands of gallons of CAFO manure to the mix.