Texas Beef Industry Worried the EPA Is Cracking Down on Dumping Crap into Waterways

Categories: Environment

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That brown circle is a crap-filled lagoon.
When British artist Mishka Henner was looking through satellite photographs of the Texas landscape, he kept finding huge, brown pools of water. The pools, as he discovered, were the toilets of the beef industry, waste lagoons where all the feces and urine of factory farmed cows is funneled. Texas cow farms captured the British art world with "Feedlots," Henner's photography series of nothing but Texas feedlot ponds. The most famous image, shared all over the Internet, is the gigantic, brownish-red waste lagoon next to Coronado Feeders, a feedlot in Dalhart.

There are real reasons to be disgusted with waste lagoons, besides the fact that they're filled with poop and give British artists more excuses to ridicule Texas. The lagoons will sometimes overflow or leak, eventually winding up in bodies of water whose ecosystems can't deal with all that cow crap. And when the waste is used as fertilizer, it still finds its way into water supplies.

"Yet in spite of the huge amounts of animal wastes that factory farms produce," gripes the Natural Resources Defense Council, "they have largely escaped pollution regulations."

Ohio is the current animal waste cautionary tale for the rest of the United States. Every summer, a thick, toxic coat of algae grows on Lake Erie. It got so bad last week that the mayor of Toledo implemented a two-day ban on drinking municipal tap water.

The algae was fed by phosphorus, which comes from fertilizer and manure running off into the water. Experts for years had warned that the phosphorus pollution was causing the algae problem to gradually worsen. "The whole drinking-water community has been raising these issues, and so far we haven't seen a viable response," the Toledo commissioner of public utilities told The New York Times this week.

After years of talking about the problem, the federal government is working on a proposal to do something about it. The EPA is taking comments on an expansion to the Clean Water Act that would require industries to get a permit before dumping anything into wetlands near rivers and seasonal waterways, giving protection to creeks even when they're dry. The idea with the new rule is that those smaller, seasonal bodies of water eventually connect with the large lakes, in addition to supporting year-round animal habitats, so they should be protected just the same.

This could limit the number of places where it's OK to dump or accidentally leak crap, both the literal and figurative kind. The beef industry is very worried. "Ultimately, what we think they've done here is to expand their jurisdiction to every wet spot in the country," a National Cattlemen's Beef Association warns Texas feeders in an industry newsletter. The association is also concerned "that the EPA's philosophy seems to be that everything is somehow connected," a problematic idea for anyone who'd like to pretend that they live in a bubble.

In Texas, where animal waste production exceeds 153 million tons annually, the freak-out has been fittingly dramatic. The Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association sent out a press release this week describing the EPA's water regulations as "the largest land grab in history."

"If adopted, the new rule would not be good for the Texas cattle industry," warns the association. The cattlemen describe an inhumane permitting process:

For the first time, certain ditches would be defined as jurisdictional tributaries under Clean Water Act programs. Additionally, conservation activities not complying with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) practice standards would be required to have a 404 dredge-and-fill permit. This means you would be subject to additional permitting requirements for applying pesticides, grazing cattle, conducting construction projects and performing other routine maintenance on your land.

Proponents of the the rule note it exempts artificial lakes used by the agriculture industry, and the EPA is trying to assure all the agriculture groups that the new rule will "provide greater clarity and certainty to farmers."

Whether seasonal waterways are protected has been unclear after a few Supreme Court rulings in 2001 that limited the authority of the Clean Water Act. And in Texas, a federal court in 2000 ruled that Chevron wasn't liable under the Clean Water Act for a pipeline spill that sent 126,000 gallons of oil into a creek, because no water was flowing in the creek at the time of the spill. If that had happened under the proposed newer Clean Water Act, Chevron would probably have had to pay some fines and then continue enjoy being Chevron.

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scottindallas topcommenter

The farmer/rancher probably doesn't do anything of concern until his cattle are sent off to feed lots.  These should be more strictly regulated if they exceed a regular population exceeding 50 cattle per acre or so--I'm not an expert.  But, it's the density, the large dairy farms where waste is amassed that we need to consider.  

holmantx topcommenter

British artists shit like pet coons. The British love Sweetbreads - culinary names for the thymus (also called throat, gullet, or neck sweetbread) or the pancreas (also called heart, stomach, or belly sweetbread). Various other glands used as food may also be called "sweetbreads," including the parotid gland, the sublingual glands ("tongue" sweetbreads or "throat bread"), and testicles. The "heart" sweetbreads are more spherical in shape, and surrounded symmetrically by the "throat" sweetbreads, which are more cylindrical in shape.

And Africans love Bushmeat (Hello Ebola!) - The term has particularly been used to refer to meat from animals in West and Central Africa including non-human primates. It can be a chimpanzee, gorilla or monkey. It could also be a rat, deer or fruit bat.  In the case of Ebola, fruit bats are thought of as the likeliest candidate to be nature’s reservoir for Ebola — that is, an animal that potentially carries the disease without any symptoms or signs of illness.

Hey Leona, pass that fruit bat, will ya?


Ponds of poop. Sounds like every legislative body.

Let's petition to have RRC and TCEQ meetings next to these.


The show Dirty Jobs did an episode on a dairy farmer who had managed to rig his waste ponds to collect methane, which he used to fuel some of his farm equipment.  He has also created a process for harvesting manure, composting that manure and forming it into plantable pots for seedlings (http://www.cowpots.com/).  All from the waste of his cows.  Ingenious. 


Republicans, Conservatives, Right Wing Nut Jobs........I guessing you are OK with it? Come on........excuses?


If there was a town with 10,000 people, they would have to have some sort of waste disposal system -- cattle are more prolific than people when it comes to waste and yet we don't require waste disposal systems.


drive a few miles past amarillo and your whopper wont seem near as appealing

JimSX topcommenter

I think you have the environmental/scientific story dead to rights, but you may have missed on the English. Ogling large photos of doo-doo ponds speaks to something else about them, possibly explained here:


TheRuddSki topcommenter


What happens if Ebola finds its way into our domestic fruit bats? Will it mean the end of giant puppet heads?



What fantasy land do you live in? Dallas has millions of people and that stuff is going on in the city limits.

RTGolden1 topcommenter

@JimSX Not to mention, one doesn't have to look very long to find waste ponds and other environmental filth in merry ol' England.



'I think you have the environmental/scientific story dead to rights'

The story is a load of crap (heh).


'The EPA is taking comments on an expansion to the Clean Water Act that would require industries to get a permit before dumping anything into wetlands near rivers and seasonal waterways, giving protection to creeks even when they're dry. The idea with the new rule is that those smaller, seasonal bodies of water eventually connect with the large lakes, in addition to supporting year-round animal habitats, so they should be protected just the same. '

Is it an expansion or not?

'The EPA and the Army Corps are NOT going to have greater power over water on farms and ranches.

The proposed rule will NOT bring all ditches on farms under federal jurisdiction.'



The issue primarily concerns murky EPA doublespeak as they continue to operate as part of the most transparent administration in history.


TheRuddSki topcommenter


Give it time, it'll even be spread by powdered Jello.

This has to be a blow to the bush meat importers, have you seen the price of monkey at Kroger lately?

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