Fearing an expensive lawsuit would take away funds from other programs, the Moniteau County Health Board won't seek a CAFO regulation ahead of a statewide ban set to take effect at the end of August.

CALIFORNIA -- Fearing an expensive lawsuit, the Moniteau County Health Board is backing away from a plan to regulate livestock operations before a statewide ban on county-level agricultural regulations takes effect at the end of the month.

In a special meeting Monday night that packed a large room at the Moniteau County Nutrition Center, Board President James Canter directed health department staff to develop programs to monitor air, ground and surface water pollution.

A study group recommended the monitoring programs instead of passing health regulations that would restrict confined animal feeding operations, or CAFOs.

The Moniteau County Health Department would monitor well and stream water for bacteria and nitrates using standards from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. It will monitor air for hydrogen sulfide, ammonia and particulate matter, said department Environmental Specialist Darrell Hendrickson. The board will vote on the staff plan at its regular meeting Aug. 19, Canter said.

The board has already been threatened with a lawsuit over its original plan to pass CAFO regulations, said Canter.

A lawsuit could cost the board up to $400,000, which would take away from other programs the department offers, he said.

Buying an air quality monitor would cost several thousand dollars, which the department hopes it could share with other counties. Implementing water quality monitoring shouldn’t be an additional cost to the department, Canter said.

The department already collects well samples and sends them to the state, which tests them at no cost to the county. Testing surface water would be the same process, but with streams instead of wells, he said.

Moniteau County farmer Gary Reichel, a member of the study group, said no one in the group opposed monitoring. The group made progress after it stopped talking about farming and CAFOs and focused on air and water quality, he said.

One of the benefits of the monitoring program is that it looks at air and water quality as a whole instead of singling out the livestock industry, Hendrickson said.

Dr. Tim O’Connor, a Prairie Home pediatrician on the study group, said the county is still divided over CAFO regulations. Lobbyists argued studies linking CAFOs to health issues like staph infections were inconclusive, but he disagrees, O’Connor said.

Even if studies weren’t conclusive, having multiple studies that at least show some connection isn’t a sign that the livestock industry needs fewer regulations, he said.

Carlene Petree, a health board member who also served on the study group, said the board is far away from its original plan to regulate CAFOs with the same requirements used in Howard County. She hoped the board would consider regulation, she said, but other board members said the cost made it impossible.

If the board passed regulations, it’s unclear if it would have withstood a statewide ban on county-level agricultural regulations that takes effect Aug. 28.

Supporters of the ban say local regulations would not be grandfathered, while opponents argued the law shouldn’t be retroactive.

State officials have said the issue will likely be decided in the courts.

Some people attending the meeting questioned if the county would duplicate the work of state and federal agencies. Even if the agencies test the same waters, the county would be able to do so on demand and respond to problems faster than DNR or EPA, Hendrickson said.

If he took an air quality sample that violated standards for ammonia, he could notify people living in the area and the Department of Natural Resources.

DNR tests surface water streams for bacteria and different forms of nitrogen, including nitrates, Environmental Specialist Robert Voss said in an interview Tuesday morning.

DNR’s regional offices respond to complaints about water quality, and the department also establishes plans each year for which streams to test, Voss said. The department typically focuses on areas of concern, like testing around wastewater treatment plants, he said.

A body of water is considered impaired if it exceeds the EPA standards for a pollutant. Permitted polluters, like wastewater treatment plant discharge, would be more heavily restricted, Voss said. If the department can determine the cause of pollution, it can take action against that facility, he said.

DNR tests air for six pollutants with national EPA standards: ozone, lead, particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide, according to Air Quality Analysis Section Chief Steve Hall.

The data is analyzed in three-year periods to see if testing sites meet the national standards. If they don’t, the state evaluates possible causes of pollution and develops a plan to reduce emissions.

There are no active testing sites in Cooper or Moniteau counties. The closest active monitor to Boonville is at Finger Lakes State Park in Boone County, and the closest to California is in New Bloomfield. The monitors do not record hydrogen sulfide and ammonia levels, which the Moniteau County program would.

After the meeting, Reichel said the board didn’t follow legal procedure in accepting the group’s recommendations. The board had to vote to accept the group’s report and to direct department staff to come up with the air and water monitoring programs, he said.

Canter disagreed. He said the board will vote on the plan department staff develops, but didn’t have to vote on anything Monday night. Reichel said he’s been trying to get a copy of the board’s bylaws.

bcrowley@gatehousemedia.com