Elected officials, environmental group raises alarm about large livestock pollution

·3 min read

May 5—Local elected officials and a Lake Erie environmental group raised the alarm Wednesday about a burst in new applications to expand or establish new large livestock operations on farms in the western Lake Erie watershed.

According to Sandy Bihn, Lake Erie Waterkeeper executive director, there are applications pending before the Ohio Department of Agriculture to allow thousands of more cows, hogs, and chickens to be kept on farms next to Maumee River tributaries.

The group renewed calls for a moratorium on new permits for concentrated animal feeding operations, also called CAFOs. Manure from CAFOs flow from farm fields into tributaries that end up feeding harmful algal blooms that threaten drinking water and tourism, fishing, and recreation on Lake Erie.

Several speakers noted that a harmful algal bloom in 2014 caused a nearly three-day do-not-drink advisory for Toledo and its water customers.

"The overapplication of manure must stop. The meat and dairy industry need to take responsibility and treat or reuse the excess manure — more manure than the crops need for fertilizer — that is fueling the algae in Lake Erie," Ms. Bihn said in the virtual news conference that was aired live on Facebook.

Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz said the state Department of Agriculture's willingness to accept applications for new factory-style livestock operations shows that state officials aren't aware of the problem or don't care.

He noted that Gov. Mike DeWine was due in Toledo on Wednesday at the National Museum of the Great Lakes to tout Ohio tourism, calling that a "grim irony."

"Nothing hurts tourism more than Ohio's continued refusal to solve this problem," Mr. Kapszukiewicz said.

"The state of Ohio's approach ...has been all carrot and no stick. They've been willing to throw money at the problem but have not been willing to impose the most perfunctory and rudimentary regulations. In this case, they haven't shown the willingness to stop issuing permits for these CAFOs," the mayor said.

State Sen. Teresa Fedor (D. Toledo) called for a reduction in the allowable concentration of phosphorus allowed on fields from the current 150 parts per million to 50 parts per million.

"The measures his administration is implementing now are counterproductive and causing our progress in reducing phosphorus to backslide with severe impacts on public health, property values, and the longevity of our natural resources," Ms. Fedor said.

She and Mayor Kapszukiewicz said Toledoans have experienced a 45 percent increase in water rates over the last five years to improve the city's water treatment system against threats such as harmful algae blooms.

"We must require corporate agriculture to pull its weight in the effort to protect our great Lake Erie because right now, ratepayers are footing the bill," she said.

According to Ms. Fedor's staff, there are 10 new livestock or expanded livestock applications pending before the Ohio Department of Agriculture on Maumee tributaries in Auglaize, Van Wert, Putnam, Mercer, Williams, Wood, Paulding, and Defiance counties that would add capacity for more than 73,000 additional chickens, hogs, and cattle, on top of the 98,985 already permitted.

According to Ms. Bihn, the Maumee River watershed, which includes parts of Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan, has grown from having 545 factory farms in 2005 to 775 in 2018, and from 9 million animals to 20.4 million animals.

She said manure production has grown from 3.9 million tons per year to 5.5 million tons, and the amount of phosphorus from 6,348 tons per year to 10,610 tons per year in the same time.

The state agriculture department issued a statement saying it has no authority to refuse permits for applications that meet the criteria for concentrated animal feeding facilities.

The permits apply to any operation with a minimum of 700 mature dairy cows, 2,500 swine weighing more than 55 lbs, 1,000 beef cattle, or 82,000 laying hens. The department said its regulatory process makes sure they meet standards set to protect surface water and ground water.

First Published May 5, 2021, 12:27pm