It’s astonishing that state officials are congratulating themselves for taking an obvious and small regulatory step to protect Michigan’s lakes and streams. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is making a change to water quality permits required by large livestock operations. The new rule should reduce the amount of animal wastes that get into our waterways.
Concentrated animal feeding operations and other massive livestock operations including some dairy farms generate staggering quantities of manure every day of the year. Livestock operations have been restricted from spreading the manure on their fields in January, February and March because it simply drains off the land and into the nearest waterway at the next thaw.
Some of the less scrupulous feed lots have gotten rid of their winter manure problems by paying other farmers to take care of it. Those farms, not bound by water quality permits, would apply it to fields at any time of year.
The DEQ’s new requirement would require farmers who receive wastes from permitted livestock operations to follow the same rules as the operation generating the manure. Unfortunately, that’s hardly enough of a change to really matter.
Agricultural runoff of all types is a serious water pollution problem that kills lakes and poisons fish and other wildlife. It contributes to the growth of the algae that produced the Lake Erie "dead zone" and forced lakeside communities including Toledo, Ohio, to shut down their water systems because of algae-generated toxins.
Animal wastes contaminated with coliform bacteria and other microorganisms are their own kind of toxin, as well, and need to be kept out of our water.
Our problem with the new restriction is that it so blatantly ignores reality. We’re in Michigan. Any frozen-ground restriction set only by the calendar is laughable. In Michigan, farm fields can be just as frozen in December or April as in January or March.
And when or whether the ground is frozen barely matters. The 2009 manure runoff incident that killed more than 200,000 fish along miles of the Black River happened in August.
The dairy farm paid for that disaster with a $75,000 settlement, another sign Michigan needs to start getting serious about regulating livestock wastes.