While North Texas’ farming history is extensive, a new type of “farming” is gaining the attention of area residents.
Land farming is a technique for waste disposal involving the spreading of wastes on the land surface, explained Dr. Bob Patterson, general manager of the Upper Trinity Groundwater Conservation District (UTGCD). Typically, land farming is performed in areas adjacent to reserve pits used in the oil and gas industry.
Patterson pointed out that the “farmed” land is then tilled and seeded with in-situ bacteria which eventually biodegrades the waste material. The growing plants absorb portions of the chemicals found in the fluids from the pits. This farming system controls waste migration and provides a safe means of disposal without impairing the potential of the land for future use, according to the Texas Railroad Commission, the state agency which regulates land farming and reserve pits.
UTGCD is a voter-approved agency which has developed rules for protecting existing water wells. The issue of land farming is one that is closely monitored by the District. UTGCD serves Montague, Wise, Parker, and Hood counties.
Research into the effectiveness of land farming in reducing the concentrations of hazardous chemicals in soils has been determined through numerous studies. UTGCD’s consultant Intera has found general conclusions drawn from this research suggest that land farming can be used to reduce waste concentrations with greater reduction when four aspects are considered: the thickness of the waste layer added to the soil is low relative to the depth to which the soil is regularly tilled; the ability of the tilled soil to absorb and retain water; the amount of water and fertilizer added to the tilled soil; and the natural presence of waste-decomposing microbes in the soil.
However, many studies have noted that crop growth is depleted on land farmed plots which received thicker layers of waste material, or where irrigation and fertilizer applications are minimal and soil tillage was less frequent. Also, in many cases, the crops grown afterward are toxic to humans and livestock.
UTGCD is concerned about the potential for groundwater contamination due to land reserve pit operations, Patterson added.
UTGCD is developing a plan for overseeing reserve pit closures within the District without trying to take on the role of the primary regulatory agency. The District is also reviewing a plan to monitor shallow groundwater downgradient of some very large or a dense collection of these pits. For more information on the subject of land farming or reserve pits, contact the District office at 817-523-5200.