Milk on Kauai, but at what cost?

Is billionaire founder of eBay, Pierre Omidyar, willing to risk the Mahaulepu Valley rivers, coastline and reefs in his rush for “white gold” (milk)? If one Googles or researches the New Zealand dairy farm impact on New Zealand’s environment (soils, rivers, streams, and shorelines), one would find many current news articles and government publications filled with reports of plummeting water quality since the rush for white gold (milk) began in 1995.  

High-volume, milk-producing farms, using less acreage per cow than typically used in the U.S., has caused such severe environmental pollution that dairy farms in New Zealand are now prohibited from being located near significant aquifers, or estuaries, (where rivers run into the ocean).

Despite this fact, Omidyar plans to fund a New Zealand-style dairy using many more cows per acre than in New Zealand or anywhere else in the U.S.

Omidyar plans to fund the Kauai dairy using only 440 acres of total grazing area for 1,880 dairy cows. With this density, Mahaulepu is ripe for just the type of pollution that New Zealand is trying to dig out from under.

There are heavy rains that will liquefy the 72 tons of manure and 10,800 gallons of urine expected daily from the 1,880 dairy cows. The proposed dairy (Hawaii Dairy Farms/ HDF) hopes to import 880 pregnant cows this year. The cows have been purchased and are in Missouri awaiting shipment to Mahaulepu. HDF plans to double the herd in seven months.

The Mahaulepu site, however, will be a disastrous location for so many cows. HDF plans to produce 3.7 million gallons of milk per year while employing only 15 people. This plan is very different than all other U.S. grass-grazing dairy farms and not at all like the newly opened dairy farm on the Big Island, which will produce milk and cheese while grazing 200 cows on 1,400 acres (one cow per seven acres). HDF plan to graze by fencing groups of 300-330 cows from the 1,880 herd on three-acre parcels (100 cows per acre). Big difference!  

The U.S. Weather Service reports that Mahaulepu rainfall (wet day event of 6.6 inches) far exceeds the HDF report of an expected wet day event of 1.8 inches. There were at least 61 days of much higher rainfall, per the U.S. Weather Service data for Mahaulepu, which is critical to the issue of waste liquefaction and effluent/holding pond run off and toxic contamination of the surrounding soils and ocean.

This is an even more pressing concern considering the poor draining clay. HDF now admits they did not test for percolation and that the soil is a slow draining clay soil.

In their plan filed with the NRCS and state, however, they described their soil as “free draining volcanic soil.”  New Zealand is hoping to correct cleanup the dairy farm pollution over the next 10-20 years. The risk to Mahaulepu is not conjecture. It has been proven elsewhere. Do we have to repeat the New Zealand experience in Mahaulepu Valley?  

One New Zealand environmental publication warned that “swimming and fishing will become a thing of the past,” if more stringent dairy farm restrictions are not implemented. There is no question that the proposed dairy site is an area with sacred Hawaiian relics, beauty beyond compare and is right next door to one of the most popular Kauai shorelines.  Is the contamination of this area for GMO milk worth it? HDF plans that the herd feed will be at least 30 percent GMO grain per HDF’s presentations.  

What will happen to the Hyatt and their hundreds of employees when the flies and odor is carried to their resort? There is no denying that grain-fed dairy cows and their 72 tons of manure per day will be very offensive. Come on kamaaina of Kauai, let’s all write to the HDF website (HawaiiDairyFarms.com) and urge a different location.

• Bridget Hammerquist is a Koloa resident.

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