Activists say: More scrutiny of CAFOs needed

Statf Writer

With the prospect of another large harmful algal bloom in Lake Erie looming, environmental activists in Northwest Ohio are focusing their attention on Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations and the large amounts of manure they generate as a source of phosphorus making its way to the lake.
“Today we heard the annual Lake Erie Algae Forecast is for a large harmful algal bloom in Lake Erie,” Sandy Bihn, director of Lake Erie Waterkeepers, said after the projection by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). “We also heard from Dr. Laura Johnson, of Heidelberg University, that there are indications that the harmful algae problem could be reduced substantially with the proper placement of nutrients field by field on farms in the critical Maumee watershed.”
Bihn cited a study by the Environmental Working Group, which noted the number of CAFOs in the Maumee River watershed increased from 545 in 2005 to 775 last year.
The estimated number of animals also increased from nine million to 20.5 million, said Bihn.
“It more than doubled. Most of those are chickens, but that’s a lot of animals,” said Bihn.
More animals mean more manure: an estimated 3.9 million tons per year in 2005 to 5.5 million tons in 2018. Consequently, the estimated annual tonnage of phosphorus also jumped, from 6,348 tons to 10.310 tons, according to the study.
Nutrients are usually placed on farmland in the form of dry commercial fertilizer or liquid or dry manure. Commercial fertilizers are often applied with equipment that measures phosphorous needs in the soil. That method can reduce costs to the farmer and lessen the amounts of phosphorous susceptible to being swept from fields by rain or wind.
By contrast, liquid manure is often broadcast on fields by hose.
“To put this in context, if commercial fertilizer applications in the spring are a big driver of phosphorous in the Maumee, then this year, when little commercial fertilizer is being applied due to the flooded fields, there should be less phosphorous and a smaller bloom,” Bihn said. “But instead, the phosphorous numbers out of the Maumee watershed are high. The manure is being applied to fields. They have to get rid of it whether there are crops or not. Harmful algae in Lake Erie will not be reduced with the continuing growth of the number of animals, the amount of manure and the addition of more manure/phosphorous in the Maumee and other western Lake Erie watersheds – the Sandusky, Portage and Raisin.”
The Alliance for the Great Lakes issued a less-than-optimistic statement after the NOAA forecast:
“One year after the Toledo (water) crisis, Ohio, Michigan and Ontario’s elected leaders committed to a 40 percent reduction of phosphorus in Lake Erie by July 2025. Phosphorus is the key pollutant underlying the harmful algal blooms. The agreement included an interim goal of a 20 percent reduction by 2020. Although it is not yet 2020, all signs indicate that the interim goal will not be met,” she said.
Still, newly elected leaders who took office in the states and Ontario earlier this year confirmed their commitment to the 2025 goal last month at the Great Lakes – St. Lawrence Governors and Premiers Summit. And proposals, such as the H2Ohio fund, are encouraging, according to Bihn. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine proposed the H2Ohio fund in March. The initiative will create a special fund that would be used to protect Ohio’s water quality over 10 years and could amount to approximately $900 million.
During a recent meeting, Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie voted to endorse a national campaign organized by Food and Water Watch to ban factory farms
Mike Ferner, ACLE coordinator, said the group voted on the endorsement after hearing a report by the Environmental Working Group and Environmental Law and Policy Center describing the growth of factory farms in the Maumee River watershed.
“ACLE says, ‘Farms, Yes. Factory Farms, No,’” he said.



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