- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 11, 2014

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - State environmental regulators have approved a massive expansion at Seaboard Foods’ hog feeding operation in western Kansas, permitting up to 396,000 animals despite concerns from the Sierra Club and neighbors about effects on water supplies dependent on the depleted Ogallala Aquifer underlying it.

Robert Moser, secretary for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, signed the wastewater permit on Feb. 26, it wasn’t public until Tuesday, when the Sierra Club sent out a news release criticizing the state’s approval of a 50 percent expansion at Seaboard’s Ladder Creek facility in Greeley County.

The expansion, which the Sierra Club says will make the facility the nation’s second-largest hog feeding operation, allows up to 396,000 nursery pigs or up to 198,000 mature hogs. It would generate roughly twice as much waste as the city of Wichita. Before the expansion, the facility had been permitted to handle 264,000 nursery pigs, or 132,000 mature hogs.

Kansas approved the permit despite a recent Kansas Geological Survey report noting that the Ogallala Aquifer underlying the site is “effectively exhausted,” said Craig Volland, chairman of the agriculture committee for the Sierra Club’s Kansas chapter. Such a designation typically means the aquifer cannot support commercial irrigation for crops, although it still has water to supply drinking water for local communities.

“The question is: Why aren’t they paying more attention to these issues related to such a large operation?” Volland said.

KDHE said in an email Tuesday that it issued the expansion permit in accordance with federal and state regulations. The agency said the permit included changes based on public comments - such as adding requirements related to time frames for waste handling and for the monitoring of sludge accumulation.

“The permit issued by KDHE is for the purpose of protecting the state’s water quality, while the Kansas Dept. of Agriculture, Division of Water Resources, is responsible for water appropriations,” KDHE said.

The Sierra Club questions whether there is enough water in the Ogallala Aquifer to properly operate a treatment system to handle waste from 50 percent more hogs.

“That is something neighbors and the public deserve to know,” Volland said.

Gilbert Bishop, who lives near the facility, wrote the KDHE in November saying his house well on his farm had gone dry since the facility opened, and said the health of farm families in the area has been negatively affected by the facility.

“The continual stench that this facility has brought to the neighborhood can only be fully known by those of us who live here,” Bishop wrote. “Increasing the size of the facility will only make our lives here worse than they have already been made.”

Janice Young, who farms land next to the hog farm, wrote to KDHE saying her family can no longer park their tractors nearby because the smell gets into the equipment and never goes away. She also told the agency that farmsteads in the area have had to drill more wells to have enough water.

Seaboard did not immediately respond to a request for comment left Tuesday with its spokesman, David Eaheart.

Volland also criticized the laws in Kansas that treat the massive hog feeding operations the same as smaller-scale livestock feedlots.

“It’s abundantly clear that Kansas rulemaking never anticipated the kind of massive facilities that can be built by any big pork producer that so desires,” Volland said. “The neighbors to these huge operations will surely suffer the consequences of obnoxious odors, and in some cases, dry wells.”

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