Keeping an eye on the sty Factory farming: Monitoring animal waste management is crucial for environment.

April 19, 1997

STATE OFFICIALS have blocked a plan to create Maryland's largest pig farm on the Eastern Shore, and the would-be swine raiser is dropping the idea because of strong local opposition. But the concept of large-scale, "factory farming" is much alive, and Maryland must use this hiatus to rethink its regulation of such ventures and examine their potential environmental impacts.

A troubling uncertainty that transcends the writing of more rules, however, is the adequacy of continuing regulatory oversight of these large livestock feeding operations.

Lapses and violations by farmers have led to surface and ground water contamination and fish kills. Livestock operators have not followed approved design specifications for waste control facilities, have not maintained them properly, or have altered them. Ongoing regulation wasn't adequate or effective.

The state recently denied a ground-water discharge permit to the Kent County couple that wanted to raise 3,000 hogs in stalls inside a huge warehouse, citing concerns that nutrients in the animal waste could seep into nearby streams, contaminate drinking water wells and pollute the Chesapeake Bay. The applicants planned large hog waste storage lagoons, from which the liquefied manure would be sprayed on croplands.

Maryland claims to have the strictest lagoon standards in the nation. The state Department of the Environment says it requires impervious liners for the lagoons, checks of water-table levels, and monitoring wells to provide early warning of any seepage and ground-water pollution.

But there are other possible requirements, such as waste management training and an environmental performance bond, that could give regulators more clout in monitoring large-scale livestock operations. The state should explore those potential tools.

While regulators can insist that strong safeguards be written into any permit, they are also obligated to see that the conditions are scrupulously met in practice. Designing a permit is only the first step; continuing, conscientious, strict oversight is at least as important.

Pub Date: 4/19/97

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