It is time to quit singing the lagoon blues and listen to Kansas State University's reports from three years of intense study of the systems.
Of course, the cynical among us would ask, "Since when did science ever neutralize a political movement's favorite theme?" And we would respond, probably not very often, but we have to keep trying.
A write-up by KSU on its lagoon research was used as a basis for a presentation to the Kansas Legislature. It said as much in one sentence as you will hear in a two--hour harangue most places. To wit: "Ammonium contamination of groundwater is unlikely except in regions with very shallow water tables and sandy soils."
The report, from researcher Jay Ham and crew, went on to say that ammonium ion concentrations just beneath lagoons--most of it is trapped in the first five to 10 feet below the floors--averaged 122 parts per million for cattle and 775 parts per million at swine sites.
Of course, the main danger of contamination or failure probably would be when the lagoons are no longer active, allowing the ammonium ions to convert to nitrogen gas or to nitrate, which is soluble in water and over which many have whipped themselves into a frothy rhetorical mess.
Ever since the Environmental Protection Agency raised the bar by lowering the allowable limits so drastically, the nitrate issue has been one that refuses to go away. Generally, farmers absorb much of the blame, and right now it appears, according to one K--State researcher, that agriculture is possibly contributing up to 70% of the fecal contamination of surface water, which is not quite the same problem as nitrate in groundwater, but related as an issue.
Other significant contributors are runoffs from households, which have no septic system, and these typically are found in counties that have little or no rural sewer code, and from wildlife.
With the advent of DNA footprinting, which is extremely expensive right now, scientists can determine which specie of animal contributed a particular sample, Phil Barnes, a KSU biologist and agricultural engineer, told me.
But back to lagoons for a moment. The systems do work and they work well for the most part.
Ham and company have developed a computer software package to help determine which sites would or would not be all right for lagoons.
Such an intellectual property would allow good judgment, common sense and scientific evaluation to determine where and who builds and uses a lagoon.
The underlying fact of the matter is that most, but not all, Kansas sites are just fine for lagoons. Many times, a single farm will contain land that is suitable and unsuitable.
In a related report, KSU scientists said livestock and municipal waste can be applied to land for years, if managed properly.
That is something most have suspected for quite a while, and some private industry sources can document huge values to crop farmers who operate within seven miles or so of feedlots.
It is past time to knock off the fighting and get to hauling and piping wastewater and waste nutrients to the fields.
Maybe it would be nicer in places to apply the liquid stuff by subsurface drip systems, if that is affordable.
One point is, though, the reports should give relief to all, and the sooner farmers and ranchers are allowed to tap into municipal and feedlot waste systems for water and fertilizer, the better off the environment and the farm economy will be.
As it stands, many small towns' lagoon systems where rainfall is greater than 25 to 30 inches run over and spill nutrients into ditches and thence into streams. The Environmental Protection Agency is taking a dim view of this.
Studies are underway to take the secondary lagoon fluids, which should be free of harmful organisms, and send them into drip irrigation systems.
This might work well. Barnes, who pioneered best management practices for atrazine, believes it will work. It will require management to prevent nutrients from leaching beneath the root zones, he told me, but the system holds great promise to save water and fertilizer, while keeping lagoon water from running into streams.
That is a win--win--win deal.
If people would settle down and let others in the private and public sectors work out these problems, the world would be a better place. Farmers and ranchers could go about their business. It is past time to let 'em.