Declining water table is real issue

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Dear Editor:

Jo Manhart in her letter to the editor defending poultry houses said: "Let us find issues to be boisterous about which truly need attention . . ." Jo Manhart dismisses poultry houses as anything to get excited over and gives ample evidence of their technology and state-of-the-art operations that deal with run-off, litter, pollution, ect. I assume that Jo Manhart and the Ozbuns, as well, can still turn on their faucets and water comes out. They appear to give no thought whatsoever to the water table.

Water is assumed to be abundant and cheap and most people don't give it a second thought. However, we at Crystal Springs Trout Farm, the hatchery personnel at Roaring River and well drillers are in the unique position of being acutely aware of the declining water table and the causes of it. It's time for people to realize the issue that "truly needs attention," which is the amount of water that poultry houses pump out of the ground.

Michelle Ozbun says "It has become exhausting and expensive . . . If they were to get my operating permit revoked, I would lose this farm and my family would put on the street. No matter what the cost, I cannot lose. To them it is a point; to me, it is my livelihood."

That rings a bell. We have watched our spring flow decline in the last 10 years. It has cost us tens of thousands of dollars to try to make a system that can keep up profitable production with less water. Last spring and summer and into the fall and winter, the spring at Crystal Springs Trout Farm dried up completely, something it had never done before in its known history. We were on the verge of losing our farm and being put on the street.

We will probably live with that specter hanging over our heads from now on, given the declining water table levels. Michelle Ozbun says that it is hard to make a living in Barry County. Oh yes, as a farmer, it certainly is. The difference is that our farming does not deplete the water table. We depend on spring flow.

Water flows through our system and then discharges into Flat Creek. We have safeguards in place before the water ever reaches Flat Creek, all overseen by DNR. We use the water that comes naturally to the surface, maintain its quality and give it back.

Statistics from the University of Georgia, College of Agricultural and Environmental Science showed that four 40'x500' broiler houses use 56 gallons of water a minute. That's 80,640 gallons a day. A large amount of that water is used to keep the chickens cool. I don't know but will assume that keeping the chickens cool is not a year-round necessity, but still, it gives you an idea of just how much water these production facilities are pumping out of the ground on a daily basis.

Consider how much a poultry processing plant uses in one day of processing when, according to Mike Devries, plan engineer at Michigan Turkey, it takes five to 10 gallons of water to process one five-pound bird and 35 to 40 gallons to process a 30- to 40-pound turkey.

An article in the Columbia Daily Tribune says " . . . growing residential and industrial demand for water is reducing water tables in parts of Missouri . . . many regions have lower groundwater levels than they did 10 years ago . . . If you are drawing it down quicker than it can be recharged, that equates to a water shortage in the groundwater . . . people in southwest Missouri would drill 300 feet deep to hit an adequate water supply. Now drillers have to go 500 to 600 feet deep before they find the same amount of water . . . business and industry are major water users."

Jo Manhart says her admiration for the poultry industry is because "the poultry industry is one of the most forward-thinking." However, it doesn't seem they are looking forward to what their water usage means for the future.

Will the Ozbuns be on the street when their well dries up because the water table was exhausted by hundreds of chicken houses in Barry County that consumed the water until it was gone? Out of necessity we have had to cope with and devise ways to raise trout with less water. Is it unreasonable to expect the "forward-thinking" poultry industry to devise ways to raise and process poultry with less water usage for the good of everyone?

Jo Manhart proclaims the beauty of Missouri and we are lucky to not be like those dry, windswept areas out west. Bob Schultheis, a natural resource engineering specialist, said: "Streams in Webster and Christian counties are drying up that never have been dry before." As the streams and springs in southwest Missouri continue to dry up, will it still be a source of beauty and agricultural production?

Michelle Ozbun says she should be able to do what she wants with her land. I agree. But when what she is doing is affecting lots of people, not just she, then it becomes another issue. When poultry farmers as a whole pump so much water out of the ground and lower the water table, they are affecting millions of people.

Our spring has declined noticeably since we have been here, and unbelievably so, as photographs show, since the beginning of Crystal Springs Trout Farm in the 1930s.

Sure this problem is not the Ozbuns' fault. It is the fault of population growth, unusual and sustained drought, poultry processing plants and many hundreds of chicken houses. But we have to start somewhere to ensure that our water table is not exhausted, that those of us who are dependent on the water table and spring flow are not endangered and that the Ozbuns realize they are not the only family that works hard farming for a living and is in danger of being put on the street.

It is time to get boisterous about this issue which "truly needs attention" and is being ignored by the proponents of poultry houses.


Bob and Rosemary Krause

Crystal Springs Trout Farm

Cassville, Missouri