Dipping Vats and Their Environmental Concern

Cattle dipping vats on ranches for sale in Texas

It has been estimated that the first dipping vats for cattle were invented in the late 1800s for the purpose of combating cattle tick fever, also known as splenetic fever, from its characteristic lesions of the spleen. This infectious disease was caused by microbes that were spread by the cattle fever tick. Dipping vats became more popular for use in the early 1900s and were used both on cattle and goats. Dipping vats were widely used up until the 1950s and have created environmental concerns over the contamination of chemicals used in particular arsenic. 

Design of Texas Hill Country dipping vats

Dipping vats were designed to accomplish full emersion of the cattle, so vats were deep on one end and shallow on the other end, with steps leading out of the vat. Vats were usually surrounded by fencing creating a chute to drive the cattle through. Most vats were constructed out of concrete, and it was important to have a non-skid bottom so cattle could control their footing. As the cattle were driven through the vat, and once they began to walk from the vat, control areas were established where the poison would drip from the cattle prior to entering an area where they could completely dry. Poison from the vat would, at some point, be drained from the vat into an area away from any wells or streams that were fenced off to prevent any animals from being poisoned. The end result of this dipping process was potential contamination of the soil and groundwater in many locations. 

Importance to Texas Hill Country Ranch Brokers of dipping vats

Why is it important for a real estate broker engaged in the selling of farm and ranch property in Texas and the Texas Hill Country to be aware of the environmental issues that can be posed by abandoned dipping vats located on Texas ranches, and how are those environmental issues best addressed so as to ensure your seller or buyer are aware of the environmental concerns, and why they should be onboard with addressing those concerns. Texas real estate ranch brokers should understand that environmental concerns such as cattle and goat dipping vats are important because of the long-lasting contamination factors that remain present today from those practices that began occurring in the early 1900s and lasted through the 1950s. Contamination of streams, soils, and groundwater from dipping vats can result in claims and significant remediation costs to buyers and brokers alike. Remediation costs are determined by the extent of the contamination and the location of the contamination. Obviously, a contamination site that is located close to surface water, such as a creek, is usually more costly to remediate than a contamination site that is located in an isolated area away from groundwater and surface water. 

Remediation costs of Texas Hill Country dipping vats

The costs to remediate a dipping vat site on a Texas Hill Country Ranch or a ranch outside of the Texas Hill Country could be as insignificant as having a few test holes dug around the vat and submitting them for testing to complete remediation. If an environmental consultant is hired to complete the tasks, expect you should expect them to charge for the site visit and dig, and the testing of the soil samples. This part of the initial process could cost in the range of $3,000 to $3,500. If the site requires further remediation, depending on the remediation, the costs can rise significantly. It all depends on how much soil has to be removed. I even heard of a site close to a flowing stream recently that they were even anticipating having to try to seal the contaminated soil in place so as to eliminate the runoff over the contaminated soil.

Texas Ranch Broker's involvement with dipping vats

As a seller's broker, a broker selling Texas Ranches needs to be on the alert for dipping vats because both the seller and the broker could be the victim of claims being filed against them later, even if they did not know about the dipping vats. As a buyer's broker, imagine how unhappy the buyer is going to be when he finds out later he has an environmental issue in the form of a dipping vat on his property that was not disclosed, and now it's going to cost him $10,000 to $30,000 to remediate the vat. Guess who he's going to turn to. Whether you are a seller's broker or a buyer's broker, it's extremely important to carefully explore the ranch you are either buying or selling. 

How to spot a dipping vat on a Texas ranch

Dipping vats are fairly easy to spot once you know what you are looking for. Remember that they may be covered with brush and overgrowth after many years, so don't expect them to always be in plain sight. Look for old broken down fencing built in the shape of a chute, and also look for a narrow vat often made of concrete that is 2 feet to 3 feet wide, deep on one end and shallow on the other, usually 8 feet to 12 feet long. Goat vats are smaller than cattle vats, and both are an environmental concern. 

Coordination with your Texas ranch client a resolution to the dipping vat

If you locate a dipping vat, inform your buyer or seller of the vat, and explain to them the concerns and potential liability of the dipping vat. After initial testing, it could be determined to be a very limited issue that requires no remediation, or it could require extensive remediation, all depending on the amount of chemicals used and the location of the vat. Once the site is remediated or if it is determined not to require remediation, having a paper trail of the environmental study and results is key to eliminating any further responsibility. Environmental specialists should normally have no problem with the removal of the dipping vat once confirmation tests have been done and remediation has been completed.  

What you don't want to do is to ignore the problem because it could likely resurface when the ranch is resold. It's always best to break the chain moving forward so as to eliminate any future environmental claims against the owner or brokers that were involved in the sale.

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