Hog farm applies for water permit

MARTY, S.D. - Concerns are mounting about effects on the water supply of a large-scale hog farm being constructed on the Yankton Sioux Reservation in defiance of a tribal court order. The contained animal feeding operation, or CAFO, is about four miles from the reservation;s main village and two miles from its Head Start; it is also surrounded by small agricultural operations.

Long View Farms, the Hull, Iowa-based company building the hog farm, applied for a water permit on March 17. Over the next three months, 23 protests were filed with the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources, according to Garland Erbele, chief of the DENR water rights program. Entities submitting documents by the June 23 deadline included the Yankton Sioux Tribe, the BIA, South Dakota Peace & Justice Center, individual tribal members and non-Native residents of neighboring towns in the southeastern part of the state.

''This is not an Indian-vs.-white issue,'' said Frances Hart, Ihanktowan Dakota, secretary of the tribe's Business and Claims Committee, an elected group. ''It affects everyone living around here.''

A major concern is the amount of water Long View Farms will take from the 250-foot-deep Codell Aquifer in the process of producing 70,000 piglets a year. Some protest petitions noted that the closest monitoring wells are more than 20 miles away. (A local monitoring well constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ceased functioning 15 years ago.)

''As trustee for the people, the DENR cannot appropriate water it does not know is there,'' wrote one petitioner.

Erbele countered this criticism by claiming that DENR has data from enough wells along the entire length of the aquifer to show him that it would support the hog farm's usage. ''We have extensive information,'' he said.

Those objecting to the permit also pointed to public health issues. Since manure from the farm will be spread on local fields, including land near the tribal Head Start, any contaminants present in the effluent, including antibiotic-resistant bacteria such as MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), may affect water and air quality.

Manure spills, due to equipment failure or human error, could increase exposures. ''The farm can store millions of gallons of waste on its hilltop site above the Missouri River, which will supply water to people in South Dakota, Iowa and Minnesota through the new Lewis and Clark Pipeline,'' said local resident Joan Olive. ''Do all those people really want their water supply endangered?''

Recent research appears to support these concerns. In 2007, the U.S. Centers for Disease

Control and Prevention reported that in Europe, MRSA had crossed over into the human population from hog farms, where such bacteria develop as a result of the large amounts of antibiotics fed to the hogs. Also in 2007, the international scientific journal Veterinary Microbiology reported that MRSA is found at 45 percent of Canadian hog farms and in 20 percent of Canadian pig farmers, a higher infection rate than that of the general population.

Of additional concern is the fact that the CDC is investigating higher incidences of community-acquired MRSA in Native populations. This form of the disease appears in people without the usual risk factors, such as a recent hospitalization.

According to Jeanne Goodman, administrator of DENR's surface water quality program, distances from manure applications to homes, farms and schools are not set by the state of South Dakota but rather by local commissions and/or zoning boards.

Notably, Charles Mix County, where the Yankton Sioux Reservation is located, has no such regulations. According to Olive, owners of concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, appear to seek out locales that do not have zoning that would constrain their activities.

''Typically, people don't realize what's going on until the CAFO breaks ground,'' said Olive. ''That's what happened here. If you had zoning, there'd be a public process; there'd be hearings. Local people would have a voice.''

Charles Mix County's lack of zoning did make it a more attractive location to Long View Farms, said the company's lawyer, Dave Nadolski, of Sioux Falls. When asked whether a more remote location could have been chosen, rather than one in the midst of the Yankton Sioux Tribe's landholdings, he replied that none was available in the county. ''The nearest community is four miles away,'' he said, referring to the tribe's main village of Marty. ''Farms have been located four or five miles away from regular communities as well.''

Long View Farms' water permit application will come before the water management board at its next regular session in Pierre, the state capital, Oct. 2 - 3. The board, which is appointed by the governor, will issue a decision during the session, Erbele said.

At the board's Dec. 2 - 3 session, it will sum up its decision-making process by issuing findings of fact and conclusions of law, he said. At that point, anyone who disagrees with the result has 30 days to file an appeal in circuit court.

''If that happens, all bets are off in terms of how long it may take to resolve the situation.''