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USFWS: Big Swine CAFO Endangers Hand County Waterfowl Production Area

The Hand County Commission will answer the state’s half-million dollar question tomorrow: is a $477K bribe from the Governor’s Office of Economic Development enough incentive to let the Pipestone System concentrate over 9,000 more swine in their county to further degrade wetlands and waterfowl habitat?

That’s the harm the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service describes in one of many documents submitted for consideration during tomorrow morning’s Hand County Commission meeting. (They’re knocking the budget into shape at 10 a.m.; they’ll turn to the CAFO conditional use permit at 10:30 a.m.). FWS says the new CAFO would be 750 feet from the Cahalan Waterfowl Production Area, and the land on which swine-concentrator Kirk Aughenbaugh and his Ratio LLC intend to spread their manure during hunting season completely surrounds this useful habitat and hunting ground:

Local topography indicates that runoff from all of these fields will end up in the Cahalan WPA…. The Ratio LCC [sic] proposal does not analyze or discuss the potential for runoff from the proposaed land application of slurry into the Cahalan WPA (lake) that the High Runoff fields surround.

Utilizing [USDA/NRCS] tools, we produced a soil map of the Aughenbaugh site and the Cahalan WPA…. Approximately 76 percent of the soils are considered “somewhat limited” and approximately 23 percent are considered “very limited” in their appropriateness for land application of animal waste slurry. This is based on the fact that their soil profile indicates that water will move very slowly through the soils—again increasing the risk of surface runoff. Further, the soils have properties indicating water erosion risk is higher and pesticide and nutrient movement are such to limit the appropriateness of slurry application… [Deborah Williams, Huron Wetland Management District project manager, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, letter to Hand County Commission, 2019.09.17].

So what happens when all that pig poop runs fast downhill into a waterfowl production area?

Nutrients will leave the field application sites through runoff and soil leaching and nitrogen and phosphorus contribute to the eutrophication of water bodies and can be seen as algal blooms and fish die-offs. High nutrient loads increase risk of toxic cyanobacteria blooms, avaian botulism outbreaks, as well as other waterfowl diseases…. The Service is also concerned about the potential effects of contaminants associated with animal slurry on aquatic invertebrates, which are the waterfowl’s food base in the Cahalan WPA. Furthermore, pig slurry is a source of zoonotic bacteria such as Escherichia coli and Salmonella spp…. These pathogens and others, may pose a public safety risk and waters can be closed to human contact [Williams, 2019.09.17].

Read the original letter, and you’ll see all sorts of citations of scientific research supporting FWS’s statements about the harmful effects CAFO runoff can have on waterfowl production, not to mention the people and dogs who may wade into those contaminated wetlands in pursuit of the wiley duck.

But gosh darn it:  just as duck and goose numbers are improving, Governor Kristi Noem backs a plan scientifically proven to reduce habitat for birds we like to hunt. Good grief—did Kristi Noem have some terrible experience with her sixth-grade science teacher and now is determined to formulate every policy in contradiction to good science?

As a bonus, Aughenbaugh’s hog barns may intensify contamination by sucking water out of the wetlands:

The Ratio LCC proposal also outlines significant water usage needed for the operation. The application indicates that those water needs may be met through future wells (for which they would need to obtain water rights they do not currently have), through drawing down surface waters, rural water development, or a combination thereof. The Ratio LCC proposal does not analyze or discuss how those water needs and pulling that water from the water table could affect the water balance of the Cahalan WPA. Lowered water levels in a permanent wetland combined with increased nutrient loads may increase the risk of avian botulism by increasing water and sediment temperature and lowering dissolved oxygen… [Williams, 2019.09.17].

And in case the commission is tempted by the Noem thinking that business is more important than environment, FWS points to a 2019 study of the Madison Wetlands Management District that estimates that recreational spending drawn by that district’s protected wetlands supports “57 jobs, $2.2 million in employment income, $351,000 in total tax revenue, and $7.0 million in economic output.” (Of course, Hand County won’t see great gains in tax revenue from the outdoors, since the state keeps denying counties sales tax, leaving them desperate for GOED’s handouts.)

Remarkably, despite all the damage all that pig poop could do, the Fish and Wildlife Service doesn’t say nix the CAFO. They simply urge the Hand County Commission to require a new plan from Ratio LLC, one that analyzes and minimizes runoff risk, implements ongoing monitoring of water quality and water table, moving the buildings and poop pits farther away from the Cahalan WPA, and checks the math on the calculation of how much poop-appropriate land is available for land application.

Let’s listen to our wildlife experts. Let’s tell Aughenbaugh and the Pipestone players to go back and do a little more science so we can be sure we aren’t trading healthy ducks and geese and hunting dogs and hunters for a big puddle of pig poop and one measly bribe from Governor Noem.

Related Reading: Hand County posts all the documents, pro and con, that have been submitted to help inform the commissioners’ decision tomorrow:


  1. mike from iowa 2019-09-23 19:53

    page 3 my bad.

  2. Debbo 2019-09-23 21:00

    Faith Cahalan served as Hand County Extension Agent for decades in the 1950s-80s. The WPA is named after her. Since she was such a kind and helpful person to me and my family this feels more personal.

    I read the attached documents, including one from a retired hog farmer I went to school with. He supports this expansion, but sited his hog CAFO a couple miles from his home. Hmmm. Why not right there on the home place where it would be easy to manage?

    Mike’s link is very good, listing evidence that surprises no one. In addition to drinking water pollution, there’s the diminished property values for neighbors and the toll it takes to have the pleasure in one’s home destroyed via constant, rancid, pervasive stink. Read the link, beginning on page 3. It’s worth your time.

    Rural people need to fight hard against this degradation of their valuable quality of life.

  3. Kathy Tyler 2019-09-24 07:25

    Am heading to a county commissioner meeting in Grant County; GOED representative is promoting the CAFO tax rebate program. If these facilities are so great according to the SDSU powerpoint, then why do counties need to be bribed? Why doesn’t the DENR concern itself with air and water quality? (Tile lines and pig poop are not good friends.) How much has Pipestone donated to SDSU? Why aren’t all research papers published? (I know of one research paper for sure that wasn’t published because the results weren’t what SDSU wanted.) I was asked to be on a CAFO research project in 2013-2014 through SDSU and various other organizations. For some reason that research project never came to fruition..funding, probably. Why doesn’t the GOED support family farms as much as it supports the big boys? Have to go. Have a great day.

  4. John 2019-09-24 13:15

    Eastern South Dakota is currently a wetland. Hope it gets better.

  5. Caroline 2019-09-24 13:30

    I attended this meeting today. The permit was approved by the commission with one dissenting vote.

  6. Debbo 2019-09-24 13:37


  7. Cathy 2019-09-24 15:09

    @Kathy Tyler–we had the GOED crew at a commission meeting in Yankton a couple of weeks ago, making their bribery pitch. The township with all the new barns is demanding the kickback money because the truck traffic is destroying their roads. But, because those barns have already been built, the kickback doesn’t apply. So now they want to dissolve the township and dump all the expenses on the county. Gotta love those unintended consequences. Then again, maybe they are intended.

  8. Kathy Tyler 2019-09-24 16:32

    Yes, it was an interesting pitch. I especially like the part where the commissioners and zoning board were told to keep the money conversations “quiet.” The money can’t be the reason for the approval of a CAFO. Yeah, right. It only got better. A facility needs a conditional use permit. Twenty-two counties don’t have zoning ordinances, so CUP’s. He suggested that the legislature will take care of that issue. So very frustrating.

  9. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-09-24 18:04

    Thanks for the updates, Caroline and Kathy, and for taking the time to attend the hearing and watchdog GOED and its sneaky advice. Keep quiet about the money? Interesting.

    Can you explain for us that legal guidance, Kathy? Is there something in state law on conditional use permits that makes GOED’s incentive payments problematic?

  10. Kathy Tyler 2019-09-24 21:17

    After a CAFO application is submitted, any discussion by a zoning board member with anyone else is ex parte. All discussion pertaining to the application needs to be done during the hearing. I know of nothing in state law pertaining to such payments. Maybe they fear that if the bribe is used to determine whether a CAFO is permitted, it would be considered a bribe. It would be a real interesting court case. Again, I’m guessing. Maybe Mr. Westra could explain it?

  11. Kathy Tyler 2019-09-25 07:25

    I think I’ve got it. The tax rebate doesn’t go to the county. The state gives the tax rebate to the CAFO; then CAFO then gives the money to the county. Think about this: if I won the lottery and offered the county $450,000 to not permit the CAFO, would I be thrown in jail? So what it amounts to is that the county officials can’t admit that they took a bribe.

  12. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-09-25 18:08

    Interesting point, Kathy: if the county approves a conditional use permit for a CAFO, and if the CAFO then writes the county a check, not for taxes or fees but just out of the unbound goodness of its heart, isn’t that a bribe, a quid pro quo?

  13. Kathy Tyler 2019-09-26 22:37

    I’m thinking that it’s probably a bribe. What an interesting court case that would be! Let me win the lottery!!

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