March 14 is an International Day of Action to protect our rivers and raise awareness of the current threats to water quality in Indiana and across the nation.
Coincidentally, the Indiana General Assembly will wrap up its short legislative session this week as well.
This year the General Assembly failed to enact legislation to protect our rivers and streams and, in fact, passed a law to protect an industry that is a major contributor to water pollution, namely the livestock industry.
Most lawmakers will be returning to communities with high levels of E. coli in their creeks and rivers, and industrial livestock operations are a big contributor to that contamination.
While some E. coli can be attributed to human waste from sewer overflows and failed septic systems, the sheer volume of waste generated by industrial livestock facilities far exceeds the amount generated by humans.
A single industrial livestock operation with 5,000 hogs (small by industry standards today) produces as much raw sewage as a city of 20,000 people.
And while municipalities are required to treat most human waste, animal waste is spread untreated on farm fields. Due to improper application, this animal manure too often runs off the land and ends up in our waterways, threatening water quality, recreational activities and public health. It also costs taxpayers money.
In 2009, a massive spill of 4.5 million gallons of hog manure contaminated the Mississinewa River, killing tens of thousands of fish and costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in cleanup fees.
While the U.S. EPA says E. coli levels below 235 colonies per 100 milliliters pose little health risk, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management reports that more than 300 stream segments in Indiana are exceeding those safe standards for E. coli, meaning that the water is unsafe to touch with levels as high as 240,000 occasionally being reported in the Wabash River and its tributaries.
When such high levels are reported, the state is required to address them by conducting analyses to find and eliminate pollution sources. Indiana goes through the motions, spending about $100,000 for each total maximum daily load pollutant analysis.
At the same time, we go about polluting as usual. Instead of working to improve our quality of life and protect our rivers and streams from sources of pollution, the General Assembly sought to protect industrial livestock operations from stronger regulation and oversight by passing Senate Bill 186.
Making it easier for industrial livestock operations to locate and operate in our state with little or no oversight poses an even greater threat to our state’s rivers and drinking water.
Residents across Indiana, in both urban and rural areas, must come together to urge their legislators to work for new laws that will provide for stronger regulation of the livestock industry.
By ensuring these facilities have strong regulation we will better protect our rivers, our drinking water and public health.