Time to Cut the Manure!

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As we roll into summer, there may be some encouraging news for many of the nation’s waterways as predictions are calling for smaller Harmful Algae Blooms due to an unusually dry spring in many areas. But don’t be lulled into backing off demands that the real problem still must be addressed — in a word, manure!

First, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration along with the National Center for Water Quality Research at Heidelberg University have noted the dry spring in the northwest Ohio region, for example, could result in a smaller HAB forecast for Lake Erie during the late summer months, the prime time for HABs to flourish.

Lake Erie has become an iconic example of annual HABs. Recently, D’Arcy Patrick Egan, editor of Port Clinton’s The Beacon, recently reported: “We do not expect a large bloom according to the experts in their first report on the expected 2021 HAB season. Because water flow from the Maumee River was below average in March and April, less HAB-creating phosphorus from the manure generated by Ohio’s factory livestock operations and crop farming has made it to Lake Erie.”

But the phosphorus-laden manure is the number one sustenance that turns beautiful fresh water into pea-soup-thick mats of green scum that can close beaches, wreck boating and fishing, and contaminate drinking water as it did in Toledo in 2014.

The Environmental Law & Policy Center just completed a new poll that reveals many northern Ohio residents support more regulation of animal manure in the Lake Erie watershed, including a moratorium on any new Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations. Specifically, 93 percent of respondents ranked safe clean water as their top issue; 78 percent favored requiring permits for every CAFO regardless of size; and 81 percent favored imposing new regulations to limit runoff from manure as well as all commercial fertilizers, rather than relying on any current voluntary actions that clearly aren’t working.

“The poll results show that Ohioans are fed up with recurring toxic algae outbreaks in Lake Erie and strongly support enforceable regulatory standards needed to reduce manure and commercial fertilizer runoff pollution enough to clean up the lake,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

To make matters worse, Ohio is reportedly considering permits for 10 new CAFOs that are destined to contribute tons of algae-feeding phosphorus to rivers and streams that flow into the lake. Adding new CAFOs is like building new cities without any sewage processing plants. While there may be some dispute about data, environmental activists believe the current nearly 150 CAFOs in the western Lake Erie basin produce the manure equivalent of sewage generated by the cities of Los Angeles and Chicago.

As reported in the Sandusky Register, Judith Nemes, a spokeswoman for the Environmental Law and Policy Center from 2005 to 2018, said the number of factory farms in the Lake Erie watershed had grown with the number of animals skyrocketing from 9 million to 20.4 million. Meanwhile, manure produced and applied to farmland had gone from 3.9 million tons each year to 5.5 million tons.

In recent weeks, this growing number of CAFOs have been drawing vocal criticized in area newspapers. The failure to take appropriate actions is also being called out by such veteran Lake Erie researchers as Dr. Jeff Reutter, the long-time director (now retired) of Ohio Sea Grant, as well as Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz, The Toledo Blade, the Sandusky Register and others.

Dealers, marina operators, boaters, anglers, tourism businesses, marine trade associations and all lovers of clean lakes should be actively calling on their lawmakers and regulators to prevent permitting new CAFOs that add pollution to lakes each year. In Ohio specifically, until there’s a sane, scientific and enforceable strategy to finally address what ails a fragile Lake Erie, letting more factory farms foul the lake is insane, says the Blade

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