Newspaper changes an op-ed without understanding what those changes may do.

“and kind” was left out.

This is the op-ed that was sent to the DSM Register where they stripped out one of the two arguments that we made. We put this together as a quantity and quality discussion of hog confinement waste. What is in red is what the Register took out and turned it into only an argument about quantity. The deconstruction piece was written to show Dale Watson, an engineer with Fox, what happened when our quantity and quality was turned into a quantity argument only.


        Because I respect and appreciate who you are and your perspective on issues, I have put together this email in hopes that it might change the way you think about my anti-deg op-ed and especially the word “toxic.”

        Since the Register excised our “and kind of waste” argument, I have included the full text with the deletions in red. This context and justification language may assuage your unhappiness with “toxic” some. I have also included a “deconstruction” about what happens when one of two parallel arguments are left out (which is why, you told me, you shy away from newspapers).

        As far as confinement sewage being toxic on its own, I might bring up a few items: hundreds of thousands of hogs have died from hydrogen-sulfide asphyxiation in the last 25 years, 25 people (which is 4 times as many as in the wastewater industry) have also died. Methane flash fires have killed many hogs. Medical studies show neighbors are sickened from hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia gasses. Spills have killed hundreds of thousands of fish, and billions of small aquatic life forms along with miles of streams and rivers. Although the word toxic is rather blunt, it does fit the history.

        If we consider raw human waste dangerous to human health, how do we describe even more polluting confinement waste? Here are the relative numbers: 
                          treated human waste    raw human waste    confinement waste
CBOD                      25               200                       1000
TSS                                30               200                       1000+
Ammonia/Nitrogen                 1-5              15-20                     300-400

        So Dale, as I said, I respect your perspective, how you think about what I do and say, and wanted to respond to your perception of what our “edited” op-ed had to say. I hope this will change your view somewhat that we may have been over the top; although I can understand how that might come about, and talk about how that can happen in the deconstruction piece. 


ps – the piece in the Register by Bill Stowe and Mike Burkart today is mine too. Because I had my name on an op-ed recently, I had to take my name off of this one. There were more authors, but because of political issues only three of us were able to sign the op-ed.

[email protected]

Full copy submitted to the Register:

Iowa has a double standard about sewage.

The state’s inconsistent rules for waste from cities and industries, compared with the regulations that apply to industrial agriculture, are jeopardizing our water quality and punishing the citizens of our communities.

State laws and agency regulations require municipal and industrial wastewater treatment plants to collect and treat their sewage, and to obtain permits to discharge effluent from their treatment facilities. We know who these “point source” polluters are, and we strive to keep them in check. 

Industrial livestock confinements also produce sewage, but these operations have escaped the point source restrictions because they have been defined as “agriculture.” With today’s industrial scale, however, these confinements are no different than cities or industries in terms of the amount and kind of waste produced. Although confinement waste is produced by agricultural animals, it is not what most people would describe as “manure.” Confinement animal waste sits in a pit, tank or lagoon and “cooks” for several months, turning into a toxic sewage. That confinement waste generates hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia – poison sewer gass es that are constantly vented into the air that neighbors must breathe. Confinements also produce and discharge methane, which is a toxic greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.

Cities and industries must collect and treat their waste before discharging it. In contrast, industrial confinements only collect and store their waste, but then are allowed to dispose of it on farm fields without treating it. That untreated sewage often enters our rivers, streams, tile lines and groundwater. 

In recent years Iowa has adopted stricter discharge permits for point source municipal/industrial wastewater facilities. The DNR is now considering further restrictions on point source dischargers: so-called anti-degradation regulations. With the adoption of anti-degradation rules, today’s permits would be a baseline and no increase in discharge limits would be allowed in the future. It is an attempt to keep the waters of the state from degrading any further due to increased pollution from dischargers. Yet the State has no documentation to show there would be a significant decrease in the ongoing degradation of Iowa waters if anti-degradation rules are adopted for point source dischargers. 

To meet this new municipal/industrial anti-degradation regulation, the DNR is suggesting alternatives to discharging treated liquid effluent to a stream or river. One alternative would be applying the treated liquid effluent onto the land. The DNR has strict rules for land applying treated effluent from municipal and industrial systems, which makes land application more expensive than discharging their treated effluent into a stream. Small communities, with a high proportion of senior citizens and young people, would especially feel the financial pinch.

Contrast this proposed extra regulation and more expense for municipal/industrial waste with what happens to the completely untreated waste from an industrial livestock confinement. The pig to people equivalent amount of waste from confined pigs in this state would be like having 30 million Iowans spreading their  untreated waste directly on Iowa’s farmland. Remember, the manure from a confinement sits for months in a pit, tank or lagoon, where it becomes a toxic brew that spews poisons into the air. Eventually, both the liquids and solids from the untreated confinement waste – which is more polluting than raw human sewage – are simply spread on cropland. The waste can seep into the state’s 880,000 miles of field tiles or run into adjacent streams, then quickly enter our rivers. Worse yet, it can enter groundwater through sinkholes or losing streams.Because many of the microorganisms in the soil have been lost to erosion and heavy application of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, there is only minimal biological breakdown of the waste. Likewise, the antibiotics and hormones commonly used by industrial livestock producers can enter our water without treatment.

If state officials hope to stop the degradation of Iowa’s waters, it does not make sense to ignore the agricultural component, which accounts for at least 90% of our water pollution. To be sure, it’s hard to argue against cleaner water. But is it fair to impose a new regulatory and financial burden on cities and urban industries, while continuing to allow industrial agriculture to spread untreated sewage onto the land?

It’s time to require the agricultural community to pay its share of the clean-up. If livestock producers wish to use industrial confinements, which produce sewage instead of manure, we should apply the same standards to the wastewater from those confinement operations as we do to municipal/industrial wastewater treatment facilities. We should require them to build a treatment facility, just as we impose that requirement on Iowa communities. If producers of livestock  sewage don’t want this regulation, they should adopt sustainable models of agriculture that return manure to the land as fertilizer, rather than convert it to a toxic waste.

Whatever the source, untreated sewage  pollutes our waters, kills aquatic organisms, affects the health of our citizens, and impacts the quality of life. Those who produce sewage – whether cities, or industries, or industrial confinements – should follow the same strict environmental rules. Until this happens, it is pointless to impose any further regulations – including these anti-degradation regulations – on point source dischargers.

Bob Watson Larry Stone
[email protected] [email protected] 


        This will talk about what happened to our anti-degradation op-ed when one of two parallel arguments, our “and kind” argument, is left out. And, what happens further when those sentences which are a part of the “and kind” argument are left out.

        The anti-degradation op-ed that we submitted to the Register for publication contained not one, but two parallel arguments. One was about the “amount” of sewage, our quantity argument, which was left in. The other was about the “kinds” of sewage, our quality argument, which was left out. Right at the outset then, the Register narrowed the scope of our argument by taking out the “kind” argument by leaving out the words, “and kind.” We are left making the much narrower argument about quantity, and having a less complex discussion by not addressing the quality argument (what is this stuff?). The Register version becomes a one dimensional beginner’s version of what we are actually talking about. And, still allows the argument that “this is just manure” to be made by industrial ag apologists.

        The set of “and kind” sentences left out contain explanatory factual statements that add depth and clarity to the understanding of the technology and the waste, talk about the connections to multiple levels, connect the different parts of our conversation, inserts this issue into the larger issue of the petro-chemical/industrial row crop model of agriculture, explains why and how this waste (through its intersection with the row crop model soils) affects the larger environment, talk about why soils can’t treat this waste and why soils can’t treat some waste no matter what, and contains language which tells you why you should care about this issue.

        The “and kind” argument and sentences are our “justification arguments”. They provide the information which allows us to make the assertions that we make. These details also connect our conversation’s logical progression. They justify what we have said and then allow us to make new arguments based on those truths. The op-ed is laid out in an “if then, therefore” form of argument. The “and kind” argument and sentences are the “if then” portion of that form. That form of argument gives a firm basis for believing the assertions that we make. With the Register version, we seem to be making assertions which you have no basis for believing except that we told you to. 

        Our originally submitted argument has more depth, is more complex, is a larger multi-level conversation about how this issue fits in to the current petro-chemical/industrial ag model; and, how this waste affects, through the current ag model, the larger environment. If the “and kind” quality argument is left in our op-ed, instead of the Register’s one dimensional discussion, we have a conversation on multiple levels talking about a whole host of issues; which is what we intended and what our original op-ed did.