Sept 1, 2003

After 2 years of sampling, our monitoring has verified – and DEQ has confirmed with 44 discharge violations to CAFOs – that liquid manure and silage leachate can enter field-tile drainage systems and pollute streams.

DEQ fines have helped - nobody's in denial about the pollution anymore. But the contamination of our water hasn't stopped. Stop-gap measures like tile plugs or gate valves only delay the contamination, as we’ve seen in recent rain events, when plugs are pulled to avoid tile blow-outs. With rain last night and continuing today, the Labor Day holiday, tiles from manure-application fields are open and flowing brown.

We've seen it in every rain event. Sampling in rain on 6-12-03, all sites downstream from liquid manure application had excessive bacterial contamination. And the first weekend in August during rain, Vreba-Hoff 2 opened an in-line water structure, discharging all of the 8-10 million gallons of contaminated stormwater illegally impounded for months at its facility. DEQ had proposed treating the contaminated water, but Vreba-Hoff delayed until heavy rain and discharged illegally to Bean Creek Watershed.

Around here they call it plug-and-play.

As we go into the next two years of sampling, we will shift our monitoring to source tracking when possible, to groundwater well testing, to critical site sampling and renewed assessment of nutrient pollution.

A huge question that remains and needs study is the extent of chronic nutrient pollution, which increases algal growth and lowers Dissolved Oxygen. With very low DO, fish die and many aquatic species are put at risk. Even bacteria, in adverse conditions, can assume a viable but non-cultivatable state. This eutrophication process can be slow to reverse. Last year, one or two drains showed continuous low DO and low E. coli counts (Durfee Creek Extension, immediately downstream from Vreba-Hoff 1, for instance). But in recent months we’ve documented extremely low DO in many tributaries of Bean Creek and River Raisin watersheds impacted by CAFOs.

It’s clear from our sampling, and from many other studies as well, that liquid manure pollutes. To protect rural watersheds and drinking water sources, to protect our Great Lakes, CAFOs (like every other industry) should be required to treat contaminated liquids. It is possible, and it is imperative, for CAFOs to clean up, dry up.

Responsible legislators should call for an end to CAFOs as we know them (with liquid/lagoon systems). Technologies exist to separate liquids and solids, to treat the liquids and apply the solids as fertilizer. Smaller or down-sized operations could re-tool to hybrid systems with grazing and winter-composting. Michigan should insist on updated and dry-waste systems in all new livestock operations.

Before the Clean Water Act, industries routinely piped their contaminated wastes to waterways. Now, only industrial agriculture continues the polluting practice.

The liquid/lagoon waste system of CAFOs is 40 years behind the times. Liquid manure pollution is threatening the lakes and streams that are an economic driver of Michigan’s tourism and recreation industries. One industry should not be allowed to jeopardize the health of a diverse economy, the health of our rivers, or the health of Michigan’s agricultural communities.

Janet Kauffman
Kathy Melmoth, R.N.
Water Monitoring Project
Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan