U.S. Water News Online
WICHITA, Kan. -- In a move closely watched across Kansas,
Norton County implemented this month strict new rules on confined
animal feeding operations that go far beyond environmental
protections in existing state and federal regulations.
At stake, supporters contend, is the safety and quantity of
groundwater as mega hog farms proliferate. Residents are concerned
about high nitrate levels in their water and odor from the swine
But opponents say the new rules are so far-reaching that it will
not only drive out of business the county's hog producers, but would
devastate the Kansas livestock feeding industry if other counties
follow Norton County's lead.
The northwest Kansas county has long been a battleground on the
issue. Norton County has two cattle feedlots, but most of the public
outcry has been over the expansion of swine operations.
The issue was so volatile in the November 2000 local elections,
write-in candidate Leroy Lang beat out both the Republican and
Democratic candidates for the county commission after mounting a
six-day campaign over the hog farming issue.
The county contends the state's one-size-fits-all regulations are
not adequate, and state regulators don't have the staff needed to
monitor the farms, said Commissioner John Miller.
``We feel it is a public health issue,'' Miller said.
After watching moratoriums against mega hog farms fail in Wallace
County, Norton officials hired their own legal and scientific experts
to draft proposed regulation they expect to survive legal challenges.
The work took two years and will cost more than $35,000 when
The result is a set of rules, implemented on March 1, that would
increase separation distances between confined animal feeding
operations and require a top or covering be placed on waste lagoons
designed to control odor and protect groundwater. The rules also call
for more deep soil testing.
Producers have four months to apply for the county permit and two
years to comply with the new regulations, Miller said.
Hog producer Terry Nelson owns five hog farms in Norton County
with more than 3,000 animal units.
``These regulations that they have put in place are really
wrong,'' he said. ``They are trying to accomplish something that has
been very well dealt with by the Kansas Department of Health and
Environment and their water quality standards.''
He said it would cost him more than $1 million to comply with the
new regulations, and he plans to sue the county to challenge the
``What passed is rules nobody can comply with,'' he said. ``It
effectively puts the whole livestock industry -- cattle and hogs --
out of business in the county. I don't understand why commissioners
in a very agricultural county want to put all their farmers out of
Among the supporters for the stricter rules is Larry Nelson, a
resident of Almena. Larry Nelson said the issue is protecting the
water, and keeping down the ``horrendous odor'' from the hog
``This is the only way we know to fight them -- with stronger
rules,'' he said. ``Until the Legislature comes up with stronger
rules, there is nothing we can do except to fight them on a local
Larry Nelson is also president and one of the owners of New Age
Industrial, a food service equipment manufacturer that employs about
100 people. He said company officials have discussed leaving Norton
County over the hog issue.
``If this county is going to be turned into a pigsty, we are
looking at moving,'' he said. ``I am not going to live in a pigsty.''
Mike Jensen, executive vice president for the Kansas Pork
Producers Council, said the regulations are not based on science.
He contends the retroactive rules would drive hog producers out of
business in Norton County. And he said they unfairly single out the
livestock industry while not addressing discharges from municipal
lagoons or residential septic tanks.
Meanwhile, Norton County commissioners are preparing for a legal
challenge -- notifying their insurance carrier and setting aside
$98,000 in their budget next year to pay for certain legal expenses
not covered by insurance.
``I'm just glad it is not in our hands anymore. It is something
that needed to be decided one way or the other,'' Miller said. ''...
I'm glad somebody else will have to decide now whether what we have
done is legal or not legal.''
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