On Tuesday, May 18, the Missouri Clean Water Commission voted 5-1 to remove “perched water table” from the definition of “groundwater” in the design rules for concentrated animal feeding operations.
“Perched water” is the term for temporary water bodies that collect below the Earth’s surface. It is the water that cracks foundations and basement walls over time as it either flows down to the groundwater table or out to a surface water source. Polluting perched water with manure or other waste from factory farms will create potentially significant pollution of streams, rivers and drinking water sources.
The Missouri Department of Natural Resources received more than 850 public comments. Fewer than five were in support of the rule change. The remaining 99% of the comments — submitted by citizens, scientists, geologists and engineers — were opposed.
The opposing comments cited concern over pollution to streams, rivers and drinking water sources, negative health consequences from air pollution, degradation of nearby conservation areas and depletion of property values.
Groundwater professionals stated that there is no scientific basis for excluding “perched water” from regulation. The design requirements for other facilities, such as wastewater treatment plants, do not leave out perched water. The perched water table sits even closer to the surface than the groundwater table, making it extremely vulnerable to seepage from CAFO manure lagoons. For millions of Missourians who rely on groundwater sources of drinking water, this level of risk is completely unacceptable.
The rulemaking demonstrates that the DNR has put corporate interests above groundwater protection. The DNR is responsible for protecting groundwater, not for prioritizing corporate profits.
This rule change poses a major threat to public health and economic prosperity for our state. Once polluted, a perched water table may take 50 or more years to flush out the pollutants, making this type of pollution a serious long-term problem and a threat to the health and safety of all Missouri residents. Prevention of pollution is always cheaper than remediation.
Changing the groundwater definition to exclude perched water for only CAFOs shows a strong and scientifically unfounded bias on behalf of these factory farms. Additionally, removing protections for perched water across the state does not address the distinct challenges, such as water availability in the northeast portion of Missouri, or the vulnerability to pollution in the karst Ozarks region.
According to state statute, all members of the Clean Water Commission are meant to represent the general interest of the public. They are also meant to have knowledge and interest in control of water contaminants. Recent action has demonstrated that five of six members of the Clean Water Commission share neither interest.
We now have two options to combat this massive corporate overreach into our state Legislature and Department of Natural Resources.
Firstly, we must let our area senators and representatives know that we are concerned about these CAFOs moving into Missouri, polluting our air and water, introducing disease-causing pathogens, and destroying neighboring farms’ property values.
Secondly, we must prioritize local food shopping at farmers markets, asking questions about where our food comes from, and even growing or raising it ourselves.