Residents from around Pigeon Lake and local environmental groups are raising their concerns after being informed that the Natural Resources Conservation Board (NRCB) received an application from Greg Thalen and G&S Cattle Ltd. to construct a 4,000 beef finisher confined feeding operation at NW 3-47-2 W5M.
The feedlot would be slated to go in at the northwest end of Pigeon Lake, 1.5 miles away from the lake, close to Pigeon Lake Provincial Park and Zeiner Park.
A confined feeding operation (CFO) is classified as a fenced or enclosed land where livestock are confined for the purpose of growing, sustaining, finishing, or breeding by means other than grazing.
The proposed CFO next to Pigeon Lake will include the construction of four pens, a manure catch basin, and 16 quarter sections.
Residents at the lake said they were concerned with the lack of notice given to them, stating that only residents within 1.5 miles of the potential feedlot were notified by the NRCB of its possibility.
One of the Lake’s residents Gloria Booth has been living within the Pigeon Lake watershed since 2008. Booth says while her and her partner have lived on farms their whole lives, have chosen to spend their lives in the country, and are not anti-agriculture, they do not agree with having a feedlot so close to their home and the lake.
“It’s going to affect everyone on the lake,” says Booth.
“It is definitely a big concern for myself and all of my neighbours.”
The Booths are one of many families that have written a letter of concern to the NRCB about the potential CFO and the impacts it would have on the lake.
“If we destroy the lake we can’t come back from this,” says Booth.
One of the main concerns is the likelihood of manure runoff from the CFO and contamination of the lake and local water sources.
“The primary issue is that a confined feeding operation of this size is not appropriate in the watershed,” says Catherine Peirce, Executive Director Pigeon Lake Watershed Association (PLWA).
Peirce says that after receiving information on the proposed CFO the PLWA submitted a statement of concern on behalf of their board of directors to the NRCB. In addition to this they also submitted a 23-page adverse reactions report based on research PLWA has done on Pigeon Lake. The report also included over 300 names with statements of concerns.
On the property where the CFO is slated to go, there are two main streams that drain from the property into neighbours land and into Pigeon Lake. Both these streams are currently protected spawning grounds for Pigeon Lake’s fish population.
Peirce worries that with an operation this size, even with a catch basin for manure that there is the potential for catch basin seepage or for basin overflow due to heavy rain or snow melting.
She says that the extreme weather events that have been occurring will compound this issue. The proposed CFO has dedicated 13 acres of land to spread manure, however, Peirce says that with that much manure to manage if there is a major rain or if the manure is spread at the wrong time of the year, the potential for runoff which will affect the creeks increases.
With the PLWA’s years of research on the lake Peirce says, “we understand that those two creeks are major contributors to the phosphorous load in the lake.”
In fact, Peirce says that the phosphorous levels measured by the PLWA during this year’s spring thaw have measured 10 times higher than what they were in 2010.
Increased phosphorous levels contribute to algae growth, a problem that Pigeon Lake has dealt with for many summer seasons. Peirce states that the entire lake community, residents and recreational visitors alike would be impacted by an increase in algae blooms.
After 2006 Pigeon Lake began seeing an increase in algae blooms and in the last three to four years there has been a significant improvement which Peirce states is due to the millions of dollars that the community has spent on cleaning up the lake, from a new sewage system to stewardship programs.
In addition to phosphorous levels, PLWA is concerned about other pollutants that come from a CFO including antibiotics and supplements which are used on the cattle.
“We are very concerned about the habitat for wildlife and the fish population themselves.”
Part of the concern is for the potential contamination of ground water as well. Peirce says that because Pigeon Lake doesn’t flush its water, water can stay in the lake for 100 years, and therefore any contaminents pose a major risk to the health of the lake.
“We are in trouble if we can’t clean up the land and if we can’t put in better measures for run off.”
County land-owner near the proposed CFO, Ed Buczny, says that while many are concerned about the potential contamination of ground water, the smell the CFO will give off, and the reduction of property value in the area due to it, the main concern everyone has is for the lake itself.
Buczny says, “everyone is working at improving the lake and then you are going to put this in?”
Buczny says there is also a lot of confusion over the details of the CFO and that concerned residents in the area have not gotten responses or answers from the provincial government depite numerous letters, emails and requests to Alberta’s Environment Minister Jason Nixon.
He states that within the Pigeon Lake watershed is, “just not the right place for it.”
There has been no word from the NRCB when a decision will be made if the CFO is approved, but it could take up to three months for residents to learn the fate of the area.