Environmental risks of proposed dairy farm

Two members of the Executive Committee of the Kauai Chapter of The Surfrider Foundation, Dr. Carl Berg and myself, attended the recent presentation by the Hawaii Dairy Farm at the Kauai Community College organized by Kauai Planning and Action Alliance. I went to the meeting wanting to hear about a sustainable and environmentally friendly project for Kauai. Both Carl and I and many others came away with more questions than were answered and both of us saw the potential for severe environmental damage due to the large nature of this project and the poor planning that has gone into this project.

The dairy will consist of 1,800 “small” cows, 70 percent grass fed, 30 percent grain fed, on over 500 acres at Mahaulepu, the most pristine accessible area on Kauai and possibly in the state. It is based on dairy farm techniques currently being done in New Zealand.

It has been estimated that this type of cow will produce 80 pounds of manure and 6-8 gallons of urine per day which results in 144,000 pounds of manure and around 11,000 gallons of urine every day deposited on the 500 acres. If we think in terms of a quarter-acre residential parcel, the cows’ waste would deposit 423.5 pounds of manure a week and 17,500 gallons of urine a week on one-fourth an acre.

Hawaii Dairy says that 8 percent will be deposited on their cemented area while the cows are being milked. This will be washed into holding pens which they say are built to with stand 25-year rain events. They don’t know the rain! The remaining 92 percent onto the fields. When asked by Carl what is the soil percolation and permeability and the groundwater flow direction they said they did not know.

They have worked on this project as farmers for five years and they do not know their own soil! They showed a map of the area with an arrow marking the prevailing winds. They showed the wind coming from the north with the smells going straight out to sea. The prevailing wind comes from the east-north-east blowing smells towards Mahaulepu Beach, the Hyattt and residential areas. They don’t know their wind, their soil and the water!

This mono-crop model for agriculture is not environmentally friendly. The last dairy on Kauai was at Moloaa. It closed several years ago for several reasons.

One reason, and the straw that broke the cow’s back, was the constant urine and fecal smells that were present in the stream on a neighboring estate property (two miles away). It is not sustainable bringing in cows, grain feed, chemical fertilizers, shipping the milk off island for processing and then shipping it back for sale.

The New Zealand Parliament recently said about dairy farms and their environment:

“There are now numerous reports over a long period of time by government agencies and regional statutory bodies that have identified the adverse environmental effects of agriculture, and especially intensive dairy farming.

These reports all point to the fact that agriculture in general, and dairy farming in particular, has failed to meet the intent of Parliament as established by the requirements of ss.15 and 17 of the RMA. The issue has now progressed to the point where public opinion surveys have established that water quality is now perceived as New Zealand’s most significant environmental issue and that intensive agriculture is perceived to be the primary cause of the problem.”

The Executive Committee of the Surfrider Foundation Kauai Chapter has asked the state to require a NPDES permit with public hearings before the dairy farm is allowed to operate. We believe there is great potential here for environmental damage to the ground water and nearby ocean, coral, reef and marine life.

Please voice your concerns to Gary Gill at Hawaii Department of Health, e-mail:  gary.gill@doh.hawaii.gov.

• Dr. Robert A. Zelkovsky is chair of Surfrider Foundation Kauai Chapter

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