After withdrawing its initial request in May, a Texas-based organic dairy is applying for a second permit for a farm with more than 4,000 grass-fed cows in Newton County. The dairy hopes new technology will ease concerns about contaminating nearby drinking water wells.
Natural Prairie Dairy says the system by Sedon Technologies can turn cow manure into fertilizer and clean water. In a video that went viral two years ago, billionaire Bill Gates endorsed a similar treatment system by the same company.
“And he drinks the clean water coming right out of it," says Will De Jong, who hopes to oversee the farm.
De Jong is the site manager for his family’s farm in Indiana. He says Natural Prairie Dairy plans to test the technology at its Texas location — it hasn't been used on this scale before. He says, if it works, it could be a game-changer for livestock agriculture.
Hoosier Enviromental Council senior staff attorney Kim Ferraro says she doubts the technology would be able to handle waste from more than 4,000 cows.
“So if they’re going to be touted this technology to treat that amount of waste, we need to know that it actually works and I haven’t seen anything to demonstrate that,” she says.
Ferraro says the farm would also be located in an “environmentally sensitive area." It would sit on the site of the now dried up Beaver Lake on the edge of the former Grand Kankakee Marsh. Ferraro says, due to the high water table, the waste could contaminate drinking water wells. Though the dairy says that area has been farmed for many years since Beaver Lake was drained.
For now, how the confined animal feeding operation might affect local drinking water sources is unclear. Newton County Surveyor Chris Knochel says the water table is certainly high in some parts of the county and so its likely Natural Prairie Dairy would need a special provision from the county planning commission.
However, Knochel says though the soil in that area is prone to ponding, water doesn't tend to permeate it. Indiana Public Broadcasting is still awaiting further information on how the farm would affect drinking water from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.
Ferraro worries the large farm would also threaten nearby nature areas like the Kankakee Sands Bison Habitat and the Willow Slough Nature Preserve.
HEC has requested the Indiana Department of Environmental Management hold a public meeting and extend the public comment period by 60 days. The current deadline for public comments is Nov. 15.
Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.