Over 500 Public Comments in Opposition to Expansion Submitted to MPCA
LEWISTON, Minn. — A proposed expansion of a southeastern Minnesota mega-dairy, already one of the largest in the state, is drawing demands for an in-depth environmental review from farmers and local residents. The proposed expansion to Daley Farms of Lewiston, LLP’s dairy would add 3,000 animals, for a total of 4,628 cows. The expanded mega-dairy would annually use 92 million gallons of groundwater and produce 46 million gallons of manure and liquid waste.
Between Oct. 1 and Nov. 15, over 600 comments were submitted to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) in response to the recently completed Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) for Daley Farms. Of these responses, 531 expressed their opposition, with most commenters asking specifically that an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) be ordered for the operation. The EAW is the first step in environmental review and its purpose is to determine if an in-depth EIS is needed. An EIS fully considers environmental impacts and analyzes how the project can be built in a way that mitigates potential environmental harm, or if it can safely be built at all. State law requires that if a proposed project has the “potential for significant environmental impacts,” then there must be an EIS. The Commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency makes the final decision on whether to order an EIS.
“I urge the MPCA to require an EIS for the proposed Daley Farms dairy expansion,” said Karen Ahrens, who lives within a mile of Daley Farms and whose family has farmland in the area. “For at least 10 years, we’ve purchased bottled water for drinking and cooking because we’d get public notices saying, ‘Our water system recently violated a drinking water standard.’ So, we took this action for our health and safety.”
Neighboring residents raised concerns about the likelihood of the proposal impacting water quality, especially groundwater. Many wells within a three-mile radius of the current Daley Farms facilities and 13 other feedlots test higher than average for nitrate/nitrogen levels. The Minnesota Department of Health reports that 46 percent of the wells in Utica Township, where the expansion is proposed, test for nitrates over the 10mg/L maximum allowable for safe consumption.
The proposed factory dairy expansion’s use of 92 million gallons of the area’s groundwater per year would be three times the annual average water consumption of the nearby city of Lewiston. The proposed expansion’s generation of 46 million gallons of manure annually threatens groundwater in Minnesota’s vulnerable karst area, which is composed of porous limestone that creates sinkholes and disappearing springs. This geology can allow surface pollution to enter the groundwater in a matter of hours. As a result, this part of the state has long had problems with groundwater pollution.
Many comments raised questions about what might happen to the expanded operation’s stored waste during higher than normal rainfall events, which are occurring more often in southeastern Minnesota due to climate change. Since 2004 in southern Minnesota alone, there have been three “mega-storms” with rainfall totals over nine inches during 24- to 36-hour periods. (For more on this issue, see https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/climate/summaries_and_publications/mega_rain_events.html.)
Dr. Calvin Alexander, Minnesota’s leading karst geology expert and a professor emeritus in Earth Sciences at the University of Minnesota, provided EAW comments to the MPCA, stating, “Given the prominent karst features all around the Daley Farms site, the nearby catastrophic collapse of the Lewiston Waste Water Treatment Lagoon on similar karst stratigraphy, the documented growing nitrate pollution of Lewiston’s wells and many local wells, and the enormous size of this proposed CAFO this facility should not be permitted at this site without a full scale EIS.
The MPCA will respond to all submissions and determine whether to recommend that Commissioner John Linc Stine order an EIS. State law precludes the issuance of any permitting action until the environmental review process is complete. After the environmental review process, the project will need a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit and both a variance and Conditional Use Permit from Winona County.