U.S. Water News Online
NEWTON, Kan. -- With new, large-scale hog operations mostly
locating in sparsely populated western Kansas, communities in central
Kansas have focused attention on mid-sized hog operators in their
push for more stringent environmental regulations.
Officials from 21 communities in the central Kansas counties of
Sedgwick, McPherson, Harvey, and Reno attended a forum recently on
protecting the Equus Beds aquifer that provides groundwater for the
``We see the protection of our water supply as our highest
priority,'' said Newton Mayor Kathryn Gaeddert.
With a Seaboard Farms pork processing plant proposed in Great
Bend, communities in central as well as western Kansas are concerned
that huge hog operators will pollute their groundwater supplies and
threaten the health of their residents.
More than 20 permits have already been filed by farmers who have
contracted to raise swine for Seaboard. The operations, if approved,
would increase the number of hogs grown in Kansas by 45 percent.
But these new mega farms are locating primarily in western Kansas
-- and particularly far western Kansas -- because current laws force
them to locate in sparsely populated rural areas, said Newton city
attorney Robert Myers.
``In central and south central Kansas, the real attention should
be focused on smaller facilities that operate under less stringent
regulations,'' Myers said.
That assessment was echoed by Mike Dealy, manager of the Equus
Beds Groundwater Management District.
Dealy said the biggest threat to groundwater supplies in central
Kansas will come from the numerous 1,000- to 2,500-head facilities
that would supply the Great Bend plant.
``We do not see this as a rural versus urban issue, we see this as
a groundwater protection issue,'' he said.
The Equus Beds supply about 140 million gallons of water a day to
agricultural, municipal, and industrial users in the four-county
area, Dealy said.
Of the more than 50 billion gallons pumped annually, most -- about
25 billion gallons -- supply irrigation wells. Municipal users
account for 17 billion gallons and industrial users about 8 billion
Dealy noted that soils and geological formations vary throughout
``This state does not lend itself to one-size-fits-all
regulations,'' Dealy said. ``... When we are looking at regulations
that affect our groundwater, we need to look at regulations that are
regionally adopted and implemented.''
He urged adoption of more stringent regulations on liners for
waste lagoons, greater minimum distances between lagoons and the
highest groundwater levels, and more monitoring wells.
In the mega hog farms in western Kansas, lagoons can be as big as
6 or 7 acres and 20 feet deep, said Jay Ham, a researcher at Kansas
State University's Department of Agronomy.
``You can see why people are a little concerned,'' he said. ``They
don't use lagoons just to agitate people, they use them because they
work real well.''
Ham said lagoons function as an atmospheric disposal system,
leaving behind an effluent that is a good fertilizer and an effective
way to treat waste.
But in the sensitive Equus Beds of central Kansas, the aquifer is
more vulnerable because the soils are sandy and groundwater levels
are closer to the surface.
Ham attributed differences between cattle and hog lagoons to the
way that waste gets into the lagoon. Hogs in the mega farms are grown
on raised floors, and their waste is flushed directly into the
That means that a cattle lagoon and a hog lagoon sitting
side-by-side in the same region would have vastly different
A report on studies of Kansas lagoons is slated for completion in
late February for review by the governor and Legislature.
``We are very committed to doing this in an intelligent way and
try to stay out of some of the hysteria that tends to be associated
with this issue,'' Myers said.
Newton has developed a water plan that it provided other officials
to develop a unified front to deal with a potential contamination
One method is to use the city or county's power to regulate hog
lagoons much as industrial waste lagoons are regulated, he said.
Myers said the secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and
Environment has done a good job of evaluating facilities that want to
locate in sensitive areas, but the city wants more stringent laws
regulating these operations.
``Ultimately these issues are going to be dealt with in a
political environment, so I think we need to be prepared to exercise
our political voice,'' Myers said.
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