Waterkeeper News: Massive fish kill in McLean County result of weak laws

September 22, 2010

Editor’s note: Art Norris is the Quad Cities Waterkeeper (QCW). He looks after 150 miles of the Mississippi River and about 100 miles of the lower Rock River.

In past weeks, the Quad Cities Waterkeeper has been describing the threats to the Rock River and Mississippi River. This week, I would like to continue bringing your attention to concentrated animal feeding operations, CAFOs.

Three-suspected animal waste spills from agri-business farms, similar to those described in David Kirby’s book Animal Factory, occurred just last week. There’s the spill listed below and two in Iowa.

We really need regulation on these animal factories. They are destroying our rivers, wildlife, drinking water, and the future for our children. We need change.

By Art Norris
Quad Cities Waterkeeper

and Danielle Diamond
Quad Cities Waterkeeper Board Member

Attorney and organizer for the Illinois Citizens for Clean Air & Water

The Department of Natural Resources is now confirming that approximately 40,000 fish were killed in sections of Lone Tree Creek and the Sangamon River as a result of pollution released into the waters over the Labor Day weekend. Also killed were endangered mud  puppies, mussels and crayfish. A full investigation is still under way.

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) reported water samples taken from the affected streams contained ammonia. While the agency has not yet revealed the source of the spill, it is suspected that the pollution drained off a field located on the Stone Ridge Dairy Farm in McLean County. Constructed in 2002, Stone Ridge is Illinois’ largest dairy farm, with 3,100 cows.

“This total kill is an unfortunate example of why we need more protective, clear laws in Illinois regarding managing waste from large factory farms,” said Glynnis Collins, executive director of Prairie Rivers Network (PRN). “From a single spill, the people of Illinois have lost tens of thousands of fish and other aquatic animals. We will be communicating closely with state agencies as the investigation progresses to ensure they respond adequately to this disaster.”

IEPA confirmed that Stone Ridge Dairy does not currently have a permit to discharge pollution, although the IEPA will likely require them to apply for one if they conclude the dairy was the source of the ammonia spill.

Danielle Diamond, attorney and organizer for the Illinois Citizens for Clean Air & Water, said: “The Federal Clean Water Act requires factory farms that ‘discharge or propose to discharge’ to have National Pollutant Discharge Elimination (NPDES) permits. Although the Illinois EPA issued a new General NPDES Permit for factory farms in 2009, a vast majority of these types of facilities are operating without permit coverage. Had this facility been appropriately regulated under the NPDES permitting program, it is probable this catastrophic pollution event would not have occurred.”

Citizens and members of Prairie Rivers have been calling to report their concern over the spill. PRN members who live in the Foosland area say local residents have been concerned about potential polluting discharges from the dairy even before the facility was built.

Two weeks ago, before the spill, an anonymous local resident was out bicycling on a country road about a half mile south of the Foosland post office, when he stopped at a bridge that crosses Lone Tree Creek: “I was there at noon, and the high sun allowed me to see the glinting scales of hundreds of carp and smaller fishes as they fed on the plant life along the bottom of the creek. Fishes of all sizes were intermingling and rolling; their swishing tails were turning up silt from the creek bed. The water was clear enough to see a few crayfish moving about. A blue heron was fishing in the drainage. The creek I saw was thoroughly vibrant with life.”

All that has changed. A single event has transformed thriving creeks and rivers to miles of floating, dead fish. If you are witness to a spill or other water pollution in your local stream, don’t wait to report it. You can call the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, 800-782-7860, 217-782-7860, anytime, seven days a week.

Now, just think of this! Triumph Foods wants to build one of the world’s largest hog slaughterhouses on the Rock River and expand the hog industry in Illinois and Iowa.

This is the price we pay for cheap meat. Can we really afford the loss of our rivers, wildlife, and drinking water for this kind of industrialized farming?

QCW would like to thank The Rock River Times for letting the people know.

Please join your Quad Cities Waterkeeper in stopping any more damage to our rivers, lakes and streams. Go to the QCW website and join up. Together, we can make change.

Please visit http://quadcitieswaterkeeperuppermississippi.org.

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