This is a message to raise awareness — a wake-up call of sorts.

Those of us listed here have come together to express our concerns about a little-known action taken by the Missouri Legislature in the final week of the session regarding factory farms known as confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and the authority of locally elected county officials or local control. We fear that the action presents a serious potential threat to water quality and quality of life in the Ozarks.

We have all worked for and with water science and advocacy groups in leadership roles and are committed to keeping our Ozarks waters clean forever. Our purpose in sharing this message is to ensure that this threat does not go unnoticed.

Let’s begin with the bill that passed, SB 391, and the chilling effect it has on our ability to protect the Ozarks from corporate farms. It bans counties in Missouri from enacting regulations for corporate — often foreign-owned — farms that are more stringent than state regulations. The Missouri Legislature has steadily diminished these laws over the past five years to encourage the expansion of factory farms.

Counties in the Ozarks potentially affected by this bill include Greene and Stone, which had previously passed county zoning ordinances, and Dade and Cedar, which had county health ordinances in place that prohibit or limit the size of CAFOs.

Loss of local control removes the last line of defense for communities that do not want the stench, threats to water supplies and loss of property values that accompany such huge corporate operations.

For those who may not know, CAFOs are large, open-air buildings or feedlots with cattle, hogs, turkeys or chickens jammed beak to tail feather or snout to bottom for fattening up. A CAFO is defined by the number of animals confined, with 1,000 or more cattle, 5,000-10,000 pigs, and 35,000-40,000 chickens or turkeys as the norm. Their excrement ends up in open-air lagoons or underlying pits until it is sprayed on or injected into adjoining fields or transferred for offsite application. Concentrated animal waste is particularly damaging in the Ozarks, where rain, runoff and seepage through shallow soils represent a clear and present danger to the unique Ozarks karst topography of springs, creeks, streams, lakes and water tables. Once a CAFO is permitted, it is not easy to limit its growth and environmental effects or get rid of it.

Since 2013, politicians in Jefferson City have steadily diluted regulation of CAFOs to attract their business from states that are becoming more vigilant in oversight. During that time period, construction permit requirements have been waived, and the need to demonstrate “continuing authority,” or the ability of owners to provide evidence of financial viability to properly manage operations, has been eliminated.

Perhaps most damaging, the Missouri Clean Water Commission, which issues CAFO permits, has been stacked with agricultural interests, thus crippling the last venue for intervention in environmental destruction and corporate avarice beyond local control, which has now been stripped by legislators. What until recently was a requirement that four of seven commissioners be “independent” and representative of the general public has been legislated out of existence.

If Missouri legislators wish to make our state into the largest hog-producing state in the nation, there is not much we can do beyond voting against them. But doesn’t it seem a bit hypocritical that these same legislators who rail against too much government interference think it is fine for the state to override laws passed by local residents to protect their own communities?

Our Ozarks landscapes and waters are particularly vulnerable and unsuited for CAFOs. We urge people of the Ozarks to make their voices heard. We will aggressively fight the expansion of large corporate farms into the fragile topography and bountiful waters of the Ozarks. We hope you will join us.

Loring Bullard, retired director, Watershed Committee of the Ozarks

Linda Chorice, retired manager, Springfield Conservation Nature Center

Barbara Lucks, former sustainability officer, city of Springfield (retired), now in private consulting

John Madras, retired director, Water Protection Program, Missouri Department of Natural Resources

Todd Parnell, retired member and chairman of the Missouri Clean Water Commission

Joe Pitts, retired director, James River Basin Partnership

Barry Rowell, retired fire chief,city of Springfield

Beth Siegfried, retired educator

Tim Smith, retired Greene County and city of Springfield administration

Terry Whaley, retired director, Ozark Greenways

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