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Water Quantity and Quality Questions

Hardin County, Iowa

On March 19, 2019, KIMT3 news was reporting that Governor Kim Reynolds had declared nearly half of all Iowa counties official disaster areas because of extensive flooding. Before the spring was over that number of counties would rise substantially to encompass well over half of the state.  But this particular moment in the spring 2019 floods is memorable for the governor’s description of the damage she was seeing in rural areas.  “She says some hog confinement operations in the southwest part of the state are under water with dead animals inside, and grain bins filled with corn and soybeans have been destroyed.  She says some farm fields look like lakes just weeks away from spring planting.”  Hardin County was among the counties in the governor’s March 2019 disaster declaration. 

            Though the governor wasn’t describing the effect of flooding on hog confinement operations in Hardin County, flooding and hog confinement operations coexist there too.  In a guest column for The Gazette, on August 28, 2016, State Senator David Johnson describes his tour of Hardin County, in addition to Washington and Iowa Counties, looking at the intersection of Iowa’s waterways and its hog confinement operations.  In Hardin County, a number of so-called smaller operations housing 1200 animals–the cut off number for the avoidance of certain large facility regulations–were being built, adding to the number of hog facilities already in place.  A family near Eldora who lived on a property near Upper Pine Lake invited the senator to Hardin County.  They wanted to protest the building of a 1200-animal facility near their home, well within smelling distance.  

            But the smell wasn’t the only concern.  The family, with the senator, went to the beach of the nearby lake where they encountered two women in swimsuits waiting for one’s husband to complete a bowhunting competition.  But they were not swimming given a posted sign warning of recent high readings of E.Coli bacteria in the lake’s water.  The women told the senator and his hosts that more than a dozen families had come to the lake while they sat waiting in the shade, and all turned away once they read the warning sign.  They themselves, they said, wouldn’t go near the water.  

            In 2012 1,451,386 hogs and pigs were marketed in Hardin County, the sixth highest number among counties in Iowa.  When Hardin County residents first imagined the creation of Pine Lake in the first decades of the twentieth century, there were 67,000 hogs raised in the county.  In May 2018 the state of Iowa ranked first among states in all hogs and pigs inventory and all hogs and pigs value.  Senator Johnson concluded his guest column by asking, “Too many hogs, too much manure in the Pine Lake watershed?…We left with many questions after also learning that a $2 million watershed project to clean up Pine Lake and the Iowa River is threatened by—you guessed it—a hog confinement one animal below a tougher set of state rules and regulations.”  

Sources:  SHSI:  William J. Moir, editor, Past and Present of Hardin County Iowa, 1911; on-line: David Johnson, “Lawmakers, look at what you’ve done to rural Iowa,” The Gazette, August 28, 2016; “Governor Declares Disaster for Nearly Half of Iowa Counties, Including Many in North Iowa, “ KIMT News Mason City, March 19,2019; USDA (Department of Agriculture) Statistics Service: Iowa Field Office, Part of the Upper Midwest Regional Field Office, 2018.