The Indiana Audubon Society is formally opposing the proposed Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) on property located next to The Nature Conservancy’s Efroymson Restoration at Kankakee Sands in Newton County.  Indiana Audubon expresses a desire to see the project moved to a less detrimental site within the county.

The project area as proposed sits on historic Beaver Lake, what was once Indiana’s largest fresh water lake.  Today, through 7,000 acres of wet prairie and wetland restoration, Kankakee Sands stands as one of the most successful habitat restorations in Indiana history.  The rich diversity of the sands supports state rare and endangered flowers, birds, and butterflies where the water table today lies mere inches under the soil.

The proposed CAFO, built by Natural Prairie Dairy, LLC, a Texas owned company, will annually produce more than 26 million gallons of urine, feces and contaminated wastewater, as stated in their permit application with Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM).

“Kankakee Sands is a nature success story and proof that high quality habitat restoration can coincide side by side with modern agricultural practices,” said Brad Bumgardner, Indiana Audubon executive director.  “The water quality issues presented with this project pose damaging threats to the habitat work that’s been done over the past decade.”

The CAFO Seriously Threatens Environmentally Sensitive Areas

Beaver Lake was once Indiana’s largest freshwater lake before it was drained a century ago leaving behind a surficial aquifer (just below ground surface).  Most, if not all homes in the area are on well water that draw from this surficial aquifer making drinking water in the area extremely vulnerable to contamination from wastes that come in contact with the land. Immediately adjacent to the CAFO site is the ecologically sensitive Kankakee Sands Bison Habitat. Also nearby is the Willow Slough Fish and Wildlife area, Lake Village Elementary School and North Newton High School.

Despite the historical, cultural and environmental significance of the area, IDEM is allowing the CAFO to confine 4,350 dairy cows in three “production” buildings. The CAFO will generate more than 50 million gallons of waste annually—including urine, feces and contaminated wastewater from milk production. Putting this into perspective, this CAFO will produce as much raw sewage as that of a city with 715,000 people – that’s more than 50 times the amount of raw sewage produced by the human population of Newton County (14,000 people) where this CAFO is to be built. The CAFO’s waste will be collected and stored in a massive, outdoor waste lagoon that is nearly 3 times the size of a football field. Once the lagoon is full, the waste will be spread, untreated on nearby fields within the aquifer boundary and many have sensitive wetlands and are immediately adjacent to tributaries of the Kankakee River.

The CAFO Poses a Major Threat to the Safety of Area Drinking Water

Animal waste contains high levels of phosphorus and nitrogen as well as pathogens like coli and parasites, which is why human (animal) waste is treated before it can be disposed of on land. When these pathogens contaminate drinking water they can cause gastrointestinal illnesses, kidney damage or failure, and in extreme cases, death. This is a real possibility in this instance because soil testing conducted at the proposed CAFO site demonstrate that groundwater is “at or near soil surface” in some locations and “at or above soil surface” in others. That means if the waste lagoon were to overflow, the liner to crack/leach, or a spill were to occur in transporting the waste from the buildings to the lagoon then groundwater will be contaminated threatening the drinking water wells of area residents. Also concerning, there are three wells at the CAFO site that are within feet of the production buildings that directly expose groundwater to contamination. And, allowing the CAFO’s waste to be spread on fields within the aquifer boundary significantly threatens the drinking/well water of area residents. Finally, the CAFO will be built within feet of nearby drainage ditches even though the CFO Rule requires a 300 foot setback. With flooding like the area experienced this year, contamination of these surface waters is a near certainty.

A Dangerous Threat to Air Quality

As livestock waste is collected in the manure lagoon it will decompose and release dangerous gases including hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, particulate matter, endotoxin, among others that are noxious and pose severe health risks. This is of particular concern given the close proximity of the CAFO to schools and outdoor recreation areas. Purdue University study of air emissions at a dairy CAFO in Indiana found ammonia emissions released at a rate of between 18 and 75 grams per day per cow. In other words, this diary CAFO with 4,350 cows will emit more than 600 pounds of ammonia into the air every day. These gases will be disbursed into the surrounding area in a number of ways: (1) the open air lagoons will allow perpetual off-gassing to occur; (2) when the collected waste slurry is spread on fields, emissions will be directly released; and (3) open-sided confinement buildings allow gases to escape. The resulting stench from these gasses can be unbearable, but even more concerning are the serious health effects they can create.

One of the most dangerous gasses produced, hydrogen sulfide, can be harmful even at low levels. It is a potent neurotoxin that can cause damage to the brain and nervous system. People exposed to concentrations of even 0.1-1 parts per million (ppm), display neurobehavioral dysfunction, including abnormal balance and delays in verbal recall. Its effects are irreversible and can also include skin rashes, seizures, comas, and even death. Ammonia is a noxious gas that also poses serious health risks. Ammonia has an acrid, repellant odor at levels above 0.7 ppm. It causes eye irritation beginning at 4 ppm and irritation of the nose and throat above 25 ppm. Ammonia can also trigger asthma attacks in some asthmatics, which is particularly concerning for children at the schools nearby.

2020 Update:

Indiana Audubon has joined a coalition of concerned groups, headed by the Hoosier Environmental Council to legally oppose the work being done at the CAFO site next to Kankakee Sands. Stay tuned for future updates.

For more information, contact the Stewardship Committee.

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