Safe and clean drinking water is a top public health and political issue in Michigan. Prevention helps avoid tragic and costly public health crises caused by water contamination resulting in chronic illness and toxic clean-ups, a hard lesson learned since the state has been reeling from lead exposed in Flint’s water and PFAS uncovered in Rockford.
But ask anyone if they know what a CAFO is, and most likely they won’t know how to respond—that is, unless they live close to one and have had their health, quality of life, drinking water safety, and property values impacted by a Concentrated Agricultural Feeding Operation.
CAFOs are required to have adequate storage for waste throughout the winter months. But some of these industrial farms spread untreated manure and animal waste in the winter on snow-covered or frozen ground where the liquid waste cannot be absorbed into the ground. This causes run-off pollution into nearby streams and rivers which can reach larger bodies of water. The risk is high during spring snowmelt and heavy rainstorms.
Animal waste and fertilizers from run-off raises nitrogen and phosphorus levels which can cause toxic algae blooms. This happened in 2014 when toxic algae blooms in Lake Erie contaminated the drinking water in Toledo and southern Michigan. Toledo was left without safe drinking water for three days.
There is currently no law in Michigan that prohibits spreading untreated animal waste on snow-covered or frozen ground. But GAAMPs (Generally Accepted Agricultural and Management Practices) recommends all farms avoid the practice. CAFOs that choose to ignore the GAAMPs recommendations are placing our drinking water safety, trout streams, rivers, beaches, tourism, and the Great Lakes at risk.
A logical and reasonable action is to stop this practice in the winter months. New bills HB 4418 and SB 247 would reduce the risks of manure contamination in streams, rivers, and waterways simply by banning the application of agricultural waste on frozen or snow-covered ground.
There are 272 CAFO factory farms operating in Michigan to-date (dairy farms with 700 or more cattle are designated as a CAFO) with large numbers of cows, pigs, or chickens in closely-confined, cramped space. CAFOs are often compared to a small city that produces thousands of gallons of daily waste, with the big difference being that there isn’t an on-site wastewater treatment facility. The CAFO-manure sludge means feces, urine, ecoli, bacteria, ammonia, methane gas and anything the animals are exposed to in feed or pharmaceuticals used—pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics, hormones—passes through their waste and can contaminate waterways.
Michigan residents are encouraged to call their state representatives and state senators to ask them to support and cosponsor HB 4418 and SB 247. The bills are now in the Agriculture Committee (HB 4418) and the Committee on Environmental Quality (SB 247).