Heavy Rain Creates Smelly Situation For State Hog Farmers

Saturday, July 14th 2007, 2:07 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Three months of heavy rainfall has filled up hundreds of lagoons that hold waste from Oklahoma hog farms.

In June, 39 hog producers in nine counties sought emergency applications to pump effluent, or fluid waste, from their lagoons to prevent them from overflowing. There are 302 hog producers statewide.

Roy Lee Lindsey, executive director of the Oklahoma Pork Council, said he could not recall so many emergency applications since the Combined Animal Feeding Operation laws were updated for hog farms in 1998.

``This is the most rain ever through July 12. We've never experienced anything like this,'' Lindsey said. ``It's not uncommon to get a week where you have a lot of rain, or even two weeks...but to get it like we've had, it's almost unheard of for this part of the country.''

Jack Carson, spokesman for the state Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, said hog producers are working hard to monitor and control their lagoons. If rains continue, the potential remains for spillovers that can contaminate streams, rivers and lakes with hog waste.

Rich Robinson, president-elect of the Oklahoma Pork Council and a Holdenville hog producer, said state CAFO laws require a system that can manage even more rainfall without catastrophic spillovers.

``We work really hard to try and keep on top of this stuff and the way we've been going now it's been very successful,'' Robinson said. ``I feel very confident with the lagoon levels now, and even with 8 inches I feel safe.''

Eight inches is how much rain his Holdenville farm got in just three hours on June 18. Overall, Holdenville has gotten 44 inches of rain since May 1 _ 11 inches more than the town's average rainfall for an entire year.

Robinson is among the producers who asked for emergency applications to reduce lagoon levels. The applications allow producers to pump effluents onto designated vegetative land. The vegetation helps filter the contaminants and center-pivot irrigation helps spread the waste evenly and prevent puddling on the already saturated ground.

The Environmental Protection Agency, which is monitoring the CAFO activity, says it does not expect any adverse impact from the applications.

``The water is already diluted because of the everyday rainfall and it should be filtered by grass and soil so there is no danger to groundwater,'' said Tressa Tillman, EPA spokeswoman for the Dallas regional office.

Under CAFO laws, hog lagoons must be built to handle the most intense 24-hour rainfall received in 25 years. That amount varies from county to county.

Producers are also required to log rainfall daily and perform weekly inspections of lagoon levels. Robinson said the lagoons are inspected daily during heavy rains.

Counties where producers requested emergency applications are Hughes, Seminole, Bryan, Pottawatomie, Okfuskee, Kingfisher, Blaine, Caddo and Payne.