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Comanche County dairy farmer Carolyn Smith photos by Dave Mann DATELINE TEXAS c arolyn Smith has lived all of her 65 years on this serene swath of rural Comanche County, where Farm Road 2486 crosses a dirt track known as County Route 240, four miles outside the tiny hamlet of Gustine. Austin lies 140 miles to the southeast and seems much further away than that. “My father used to butcher hogs in that tree,” Smith says, leading me across her yard. It’s a hot June day, and we’re walking to the South Leon River, a lazy stream that skirts her land and is part of a brewing controversy over dairy manure pollution in Central Texas, the health of drinking water for 250,000 residents of Temple, Killeen, and Belton, and whether the state environmental agency is not only violating a directive from the Environmental Protection Agency, but also breaking federal law. Smith and her husband Paul own about 600 acres here, some of it leased to others, the rest used for light farming and for their 60 pair of cattle. We step across the road and descend a flaky hillside toward the river, Smith’s smoothbottomed shoes slipping on the dry dirt. She’s generally soft-spoken but makes the most of her direct, punchy sentences. When she was young, Smith says, she would come here to swim. Years later, her son loved to fish near this spot, back when the river still had fish. “That’s where we used to do the baptisms,” she says, pointing to a small inlet 50 yards upstream. Now, she explains, no one goes in this water. “My cows won’t even drink out of it,” she says. Smith believes two industrial dairies upstream are mostly responsible for polluting the river. It’s clear this is her snippet of the world, and she aims to protect it. To that end, Smith has joined a coalition of local landowners, environmental groups, and city officials, who are fighting the expansion of Wildcat Dairy, a mile upstream from her land. On March 20, the Texas Natural Resource approved Wildcat Dairy’s permit application to grow from 990 cows to 4,000all of which would normally be unremarkable except that, environmentalists say, it’s illegal. The dairy industry is as much a part of Central Texas history as cattle drivesit has always been part of the landscape. The cur rent Wildcat Dairy site, Smith remem bers, was a dairy when she was growing up. It was family-owned and delivered milk in galvanized metal cans. Her husband even hauled milk in high school, she says, laughing. But dairies back then were small. Beginning in the 1970s, the dairy industry, especially in Texas, turned a corner. Small, provincial farms morphed into sprawling, agribusiness corporations, part of a national trend toward fewer and larger dairies. In 1934, the U.S. had roughly 3.4 million dairies, each with an average 5.4 cows, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture figures. By 1987, the number of dairies had shrunk to 202,000, but the average number of cows had risen to 51 per dairy. Nowhere is that trend more evident than in Central Texas. A huge influx of large, industrial dairies to Erath and Comanche counties in the 1980s and early 1990s led to soaring milk sales and made the region one of the nation’s most prolific milk-producing areas. Many of the newcomers were of Dutch origin. Some were refugees from California’s Chino Valley, where the state began cracking down on dairy pollution; others came directly from the Netherlands. Driving through Erath and Comanche counties, you can see the Dutch influence in dairy names such as Vanden Berge,Vander Horst, and Oosten. Got Manure? Too Many Cows Leave the Leon River Up a Creek BY DAVE MANN 12 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7/19102