The City of Lubbock says thousands of prairie dogs currently living on the City Farm will be gone by next spring. That's part of the City's preliminary proposal to prevent treated sewage water from contaminating the Ogalala Aquifer. It may be a sensitive issue, but it demands a quick solution.
Although it wasn't intended for them, over the past few years, thousands of prairie dogs have taken up residence on the City Farm. "We don't know how many we have. I've heard anywhere from 40,000 to over 1 million. We think the number is under 100,000," says Lubbock Mayor Marc McDougal.
Regardless of how many there are, the City has decided they've all got to go. That's because the farm is where the City spreads it's treated sewage water. The grasses planted there soak up the nitrates in that water. But now, the prairie dogs are eating all the grass allowing the nitrates to seep into the ground, contaminating the aquifer. In addition, prairie dog burrows reach well below the grass roots, allowing nitrates to directly contaminate the aquifer.
Some groups say this is not scientific, and purely speculative. But the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, or TNRCC, says this information is scientific evidence. They have monitored nitrate levels for years and the areas encroached upon by prairie dogs do indeed show a spike in nitrate levels. So, the City must comply with the TNRCC or face fines of up to $25,000 a day.
Mayor McDougal says the City's plan looks something like this. From now until December they will allow licensed conservation groups and relocators to collect and relocate as many prairie dogs as possible. Then, in December, when the endangered Burrowing Owls migrate south, if any prairie dogs remain in the center pivot areas of the farm, they will be killed to prevent further ground water contamination. Their burrows will then be plowed under and sealed. The project will be complete by February 2003. The City will continue working to control new and re-infestations.
"We've got a problem. We've got 20 million gallons of effluent water a day that we've got to get rid of. We have to have that land to do that. Certainly there will be groups that regardless of what we do, it won't be good enough. But, we want to do everything we can to save as many prairie dogs as possible," says Mayor McDougal.
This proposal will be presented to the TNRCC on August 20th. The TNRCC says it is pleased so far with the efforts of the City, and wants to remind us that there is not an imminent threat to public health, but there could be a future threat if the problem were ignored.