OHIO MEGAFARMS EPA inspections suggest manure threatens water
Runoff may contribute to Lake Erie's 'dead zone.'
Manure runoff from northwest Ohio's large-scale dairies is entering the state's waterways and poses a possible threat to the water supply, according to a story published Sunday by The Plain Dealer.
An unannounced inspection of 10 dairies in March revealed problems at nearly all of them, said Arnie Lieder, enforcement officer for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Lieder cites maintenance problems with manure storage pits and "failure to contain contaminated runoff and unauthorized discharges."
The 22,600 cows at northwest Ohio's 22 new dairies produce about 2.8 million pounds of manure a day. More cows are on the way as new farms are built and existing farms plan herd expansions.
Manure at megafarms is hosed out of the cows' stalls and piped outdoors into lagoons for storage. It is then pumped into trucks and taken to fields to be spread as fertilizer. Manure sometimes overflows from storage lagoons, and once it's spread on fields it occasionally reaches waterways that lead to lakes and rivers that supply drinking water.
Ohio State University zoologist David Culver said it's possible that the manure is contributing to Lake Erie's 6,300-square-mile "dead zone," an oxygen-depleted area where fish cannot live.
Though other factors, including industrial runoff, are implicated in Lake Erie's dead zone, "the influx of new dairies ain't helping," Culver said.
State Rep. John White, a suburban Dayton Republican, proposed a bill in May 2003 requiring the Ohio EPA to study the impact of megafarms and the land application of manure. The bill died in committee.
"There was no appetite for it," he said.
The vast majority of Ohio's dairies let their cows graze in pastures where nature works the nutrients back into the soil. Each cow requires about 11/2 acres to graze.
Bob Peterson, president of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, said lagoon storage is healthy for the state's environment.
He said that in 1975 the state had 400,000 dairy cows that spread waste on streams and hillsides. Today, the state has fewer cows -- 260,000 in 2002 -- and the waste is managed according to plans.
Tim Demland, executive director of Ohio Dairy Producers, said the problems are being solved. He said the benefits of megafarms override the problems because large-scale dairies allow Ohio dairy factories to make more products with local milk.