Special Opinion to the Cape Charles Mirror by Chas Cornweller
Wednesday night the Accomack County Planning Commission held a work session at the Melfa airport conference room. The first steps were taken to rewrite and update the County’s zoning as it affects location of new poultry houses.
Planning director Mr. Rich Morrison invited guest speakers that included the poultry industry and local farmers. First to speak was Mr. Rick Hall, of the Melfa area, who is a local farmer. Hall explained that his parcels totaling approximately 3500 acres were under a nitrogen plan that was known as the Green Seekers Plan. Hall said that he had no chicken farms and bought manure from a broker to distribute on his corn, wheat, and soybean crops. Not having enough available manure Hall said that in addition to the manure that 25% of his nitrogen needs were purchased in the form of liquid nitrogen to supplement the shortage of chicken manure. Hall said that he believed that two thirds of the farm acreage in Accomack County was not using chicken manure because there was no more available. Under the Green Seekers plan Hall said that phosphorus per acre was the controlling or limiting factor. He reported that approximately 3 tons of manure was applied per acre for corn crops, and 1 ton of manure was applied for wheat crops. Again in these scenarios liquid nitrogen is bought to supplement the land needs. He gave the comparison that chicken manure was approximately equal to 2-2- 2 fertilizer. In some cases Hall said that Northampton farmers were hauling manure from as far away as Maryland but in his experience the hauling expense was prohibitive.
Two speakers from Tyson Foods were next on the agenda with general manager Jared Goodman taking the lead. It was explained that the new proposed chicken houses would use 30% less energy with insulation to the R-30 level. As to the water usage they explained that on an average per day they would only be using two gallons per 40,000 chickens .This was explained that they operated on a nine week cycle with 14 days in between each cycle with little or no water at night.
He openly admitted the older the chicken the more water they used but if you did it mathematically it would come out to be approximately 2 gallons per day for 40,000 chickens. It was pointed out that there are 25% fewer chicken houses today then there was in 1995. Planning commission members asked the approximate cost of the new enlarged chicken houses and received the number of approximately $400,000 per chicken house.
Three homeowners were present at the meeting who expressed their concern about 16 new chicken houses proposed for one farm. Planning Director Rich Morrison tried explain to the homeowners that in an agricultural zone chicken farms were permitted by right in the Virginia code therefore the planning commission nor the Board of Supervisors could not deny the building of any chicken house if the checkoff list was met.
The county has a dozen applications pending for a total of 84 new poultry houses. In addition, an out-of- state producer inquired earlier this year about building up to 72 more. Accomack County Planning Department figures from a July 2015 report show applications for new poultry houses increased significantly starting in late 2014.
Present Count of Chicken Houses in Accomack County: 28 (housing approximately 50,000 chickens per housing unit) using 2 gallons of water per 40,000 divide into 1,400,000 chickens (28×50,000) equals 35 gallons per day or 2,205 gallons per nine week gestation and growth cycle.
Future Buildup of Tyson run Chicken Houses equals 80 houses x 50,000 equals 4,000,000 chickens. Divided by 40,000 times 2 gallons of water use equals 100 gallons per day or 6,300 gallons total per nine week cycle.
Future Buildup of pending run Chicken Houses is total of 84 new houses plus out of state producer of 72 plus the existing 28 house equals a total of 184 by the year 2017. 184 houses x 50,000 equals 9,200,000 chickens water usage 2 gallons per 40,000 or 230 gallons per day times nine weeks for a total of 14,490 gallons per cycle.
What that brings us to is by the year 2020 (just five years away) the total usage of water from the Columbia and Yorktown-Eastover Multi-aquifer System aquifer for just housing chickens will be 65,205 gallons per year or nearly 200,000 gallons in the next three if the present total number of 184 is halted. That is in lieu of a daily usage of 1,200,000 gallons per day or (based on a five day work week) six million per week times three years. (final talley: 300 million gallons plus the 200 thousand) Nearly all drinking water on the Eastern Shore of Virginia is derived from groundwater as there are no surface water bodies capable of supplying a large quantity of water.
Most residents obtain their drinking water from private wells since the percentage of housing units in Accomack county having water supplied by a public water system is listed at 31% (out of 15,840 units) in the most recent U.S. Census data; for Northampton county the figure is 12% (out of 6,183 units). Municipal wells are usually completed in the Yorktown- Eastover aquifer system, typically with multi-screened wells. Total ground water use was estimated to be 5 million gallons per day (Mgal/d) by the U.S. Geological Survey and using records contained within the EPA Federal Data Reporting System. A population of approximately 52,000 is served by public water supply systems (which rely on ground water). Withdrawals by private wells from the Columbia were estimated to be at least 1.7 Mgal/day. Other large ground water withdrawals include those for industry and irrigation. Use of alternative supplies of water outside the aquifer is economically and technically infeasible due to the difficulties and costs of transporting water from either mainland Virginia or northerly portions of the Delmarva Peninsula. In addition, excess alternative ground water supplies in nearby portions of mainland Virginia are unlikely to be available, as shown by current difficulties in obtaining additional water for Virginia Beach, Virginia. The majority of poultry industry waste water is barely reprocessed before being dumped back into the environment.
EPA data provides this perspective: Poultry on the lower shore sends more than four times as much nitrogen into the bay as the biggest nonagricultural source – leaky septic tanks and runoff from developed areas – and more than three times as much phosphorus as the second-largest nonfarm source, sewage treatment plants. And that’s before factoring in other ways chicken waste reaches water – through slaughterhouses discharging treated waste water and burying sludge, a mud-like leftover scraped from treatment plants.
Every working day, a dozen slaughterhouses slice the necks of more than 2 million birds, using more than 12 million gallons of water to flush away more than 1,600 tons of guts, chicken heads, fat globules, feathers and blood. The slaughterhouses treat the water before they release it to creeks, but it still contains some pollution.
“In the lower shore, poultry is the primary source of excess amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus, said Bill Matuszeski, director of the Bay Program office. Nothing else is even close.”
The EPA is extending the strictures of the federal Clean Water Act to agriculture. Maryland has led the nation with rules to limit farm pollution. Virginia followed with a runoff law this year. Even Delaware, where the industry enjoys powerful allies, responded to EPA pressure and this year adopted new farming rules.
Key provisions of those laws take effect between 2001 and 2007. Meanwhile, poultry corporations with Delmarva plants have hired lobbyists to fend off additional curbs. Maryland producers formed a political action committee this year to support candidates sympathetic to the industry. A tri-state trade group kicked off a public relations campaign last month to counter the image of chicken companies as polluters.
“Much of the work that we have done in 1998, and will do in 1999, involves protecting you from government intrusion,”declared Kenneth M. Bounds, president of Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc., during an April banquet for farmers, bankers, grain salespeople and others in the chicken business. “Our industry is under attack, and everyone must rally to its defense. Our critics are armed with fear and misinformation. We must overcome them.”
That resolve and anger resonate with many growers.
“I’m not running a stone pit. I’m not running a whorehouse. I’m running a farming operation,” said Bob Winkler, who raises 168,000 chickens at a time for Townsends Inc. inside six 500-foot-long houses in Felton, Del. “We’re doing a hell of a service for humanity: feeding them. If you shut down this chicken industry, where are the people going to get their food?”
Industry leaders complain they are caught between the nation’s hunger for cheap chicken, which depends on huge economies of scale, and an increasingly fervent call for pristine waterways.
Their hatcheries, feed mills and slaughterhouses generate a reliable supply of affordable meat. They also produce vast waste.
“The good Lord only gave us three ways to deal with our problem,” Perdue’s manager for environmental services, John K. Chlada, in a speech before the Maryland Coastal Bays Program Citizen Advisory Committee. “We can put it out in the air, put it out in the water or put it out on the land. Where do you want me to put it?”