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Money, Manure, and Toxic Algae: Report Connects the Dots

Manure from CAFOs contains phosphorus that contributes to the growth of toxic algae in Lake Erie. (U.S. Dept. of Agriculture)
Manure from CAFOs contains phosphorus that contributes to the growth of toxic algae in Lake Erie. (U.S. Dept. of Agriculture)
December 15, 2015

COLUMBUS, Ohio – A new report connects the dots between headline making toxic algae in Lake Erie and taxpayer dollars.

Manure from confined animal feeding operations, known as CAFOs, contains phosphorus that contributes to the growth of blue-green algae.

And the report from the Less Equals More Coalition found that the 146 CAFOs in the Western Lake Erie watershed produce 630 million gallons of manure each year.

Lynn Henning, a member of the Socially Responsible Agriculture Project, co-authored the report. She says those CAFOs have received nearly $17 million in federal subsidies since 2008, despite 230 environmental violations.

"Even though these facilities, these large CAFOs that are permitted, may not be in compliance with their permits, we're giving large amounts of subsidies, and we're still seeing pollution in Lake Erie," she points out.

Henning says waste from CAFOs is running off into streams and rivers that lead to Lake Erie. She adds the subsidy money is being used to manage the waste, rather than developing more sustainable practices to deal with it.

The 57 Ohio CAFOs listed in the report generate the most waste in the watershed.

Vickie Askins, president of the Ohio Environmental Stewardship Alliance, says state lawmakers have tried to combat the phosphorus problem with legislation to address commercial fertilizers, and small and medium operations.

But CAFOs aren't affected by the legislation, and Askins contends they're using loopholes in the law instead of developing action plans for waste.

"They're supposed to have a list of fields that they're going to use, and soil tests for those fields,” she states. “They're supposed to have a five-year plan to utilize the nutrients. And all the CAFO owners do is say, 'I'm going to sell all my manure to someone else – not under my control,' and they don't have to follow any of those rules."

Lake Erie provides drinking water to 11 million people, and Matt Trokan, conservation director of the Sierra Club Ohio Chapter, says toxic algae threatens water quality, fishing and recreation in the region. He maintains subsidies to CAFOs and the lack of regulation has fueled the costly toxic algae crisis.

"The subsidies are costing us money in terms of recreational value, local economies, along with the public and environmental health,” he states. “We should regulate the manure and stop the subsidies."

In 2014, toxic algae poisoned Toledo's drinking water, and this year's algal bloom in Lake Erie was confirmed to be the largest on record.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH