Rather than raking through the stacks at IDEM, I'm expanding my CSO or combined sewer overflow education by raking through Alternative editor Steven Higgs' file cabinet. Hopefully, my summarization of an article Steve wrote for IDEM in 2000 about the E. coli riddled Little Lick Creek in Hartford City (our next destination), will better prepare me, and others, for what to expect.
Reading the article, I learned something new right away. Not all strains of E. coli, a bacteria living in the intestines of warm-blooded animals, produce the same results. One of the more threatening strains, O157:H7, causes the bloody diarrhea and abdominal cramps often associated with an E. coli infection. This strain and others are found in Little Lick Creek.
Three variables, according to the article, account for this strain in Little Lick: runoff from nearby agribusinesses, failing septic systems and, not surprisingly, untreated waste from CSOs.
As we delve into combined sewer overflows or CSOs, (having everything to do again with poop, only now, from we humans) many of you are probably thinking, "Here we go again." I know I did.
But I've learned through the "Indiana Environment Revisited" project that one of the major environmental threats we're up against is the export of human and animal waste. And while other looming threats like the pending coal plant in Edwardsport or the construction of I-69 have nothing to do with what comes from our bodies, one major connection tying these and many environmental movements together is water.
The mercury from coal plants, the destruction of Indiana's wetlands by I-69 and the contaminants from CAFOs and CSOs all threaten our water, the most important natural resource on Earth.
As this is our only "Indiana Environment Revisited" piece this issue, it looks like it's up to me, for the moment, to explain the threat of CSOs and why anyone should care, as I am learning them from the Improving Kids' Environments (IKE) Website.
The first CAFO supporter is in.
The e-mail came on a Monday. No name was attached, just an address and the initials DP. "We all love our technology," DP wrote, "TV's, Computers, I-pod's. I don't believe consumers will pay for a 1975 production system."
I'd like to start by saying I don't own an iPod.
All joking aside, although I really don't own an iPod, I'd like to make it clearer where I stand on CAFOs, considering I knew little about them until about a month-and-a-half ago. Based on the information I've learned in that time, the call here is not to eradicate factory farms, as CAFO’s are also called, though in a perfect world, we'd give farming back to the farmers.
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The e-mails are pouring into my inbox. "Your articles and videos are excellent," "thank you for letting people know what is going on," I read. It's great to revel in the support from people who understand just what kind of wreckless establishment CAFOs are. And while the support is welcomed, I wonder where the other side is.
If CAFOs are allowed to be built without setbacks and to operate with effectively no regulation, there must be support for it. And I expected, somewhat, to hear from those people.
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If the feedback we've received is an accurate reflection of how people statewide or nationwide feel about CAFOs, citizens want permits for CAFOs to be granted under the strictest of conditions and run with the highest standards of health and safety. Otherwise, Indiana's public-private CAFO alliance is a complete and deviant local assault.
One of two things are happening. Either CAFO supporters aren't threatened enough to defend their position or the majority of people in both rural and urban Indiana don't know about the problem. Of those who do, the sentiments are the same -- they are thrilled to have a media entity care.
An invasion, to me, has always meant the unwavering presence of an unwelcome guest, a permanent infringement. I realized after Alternative editor Steve Higgs and I took our first "Indiana Environment Revisited" day trip to Randolph and Henry counties, CAFOs, at least by my definition, are that invasion. We met people who felt the violation and literal stink of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.
We met Barbara Sha Cox at a truck stop just off I-70. Introductions were short but friendly. Our initial drive through the countryside was refreshing. Steve and I, trailing Barbara and husband Dan's long green pickup, enjoyed light conversation.
But pulling up to our first stop, the home of Rex and Brenda Jones in Henry County, I was subdued by the muted energy. After all, you lose that zest for life when liquefied pig waste is sprayed into the air like fireworks just outside of your home.