Bill seeks to protect Michigan waterways from winter pollution

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published November 14, 2017

What happens when animal waste and frozen ground mix? 

It can be the pollution of waterways, such as the 2014 toxic algae bloom in Lake Erie. Since Michigan does not currently prohibit the application of animal waste from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) to frozen ground, state Rep. Kevin Hertel, D-St. Clair Shores, said it can create problems for the Great Lakes and other watersheds across the state.

He and state Sen. Hoon-Yung Hopgood, D-Taylor, have introduced legislation to stop the application of manure, fertilizer or waste from livestock operations to ground that is frozen or covered with snow. Hertel said that the issue was brought to his attention by a constituent in St. Clair Shores. The constituent did not want to be named or interviewed.

“In Ohio, it caused the water intake ...  to be shut off,” Hertel said. “Even for those folks that are inland, this is incredibly important because this is the source of drinking water.”

He said that his office is working to address water pollution “on both sides” by working to minimize sewer overflows and now with this legislation that seeks to decrease polluted runoff. 

Large animal operations face the problem of where to store manure produced in the winter, he said.

“They don’t have anywhere to put it, so they just spread it, (but) without the nutrients of that being absorbed into the ground, they run off much more quickly into our watershed,” he said. 

While he said he is sympathetic to the fact that this could be an added cost for operators of farming facilities, he said there can be simple solutions, such as a covered shed. 

“There are some costs with it ... but it can be stored and there are farms in the state of Michigan, and elsewhere, that are able to store this and don’t spread it on the frozen ground,” Hertel said. 

According to a press release from Hertel’s office, Michigan, Ohio and Ontario have committed to jointly reducing the amount of nutrients into Lake Erie by 40 percent, but Michigan is the only member that still relies on voluntary compliance.

“We know that agricultural runoff is the chief contributor to the nutrients that feed the algae plaguing Lake Erie and other Great Lakes and inland bodies of water in Michigan,” said Gail Philbin, state director of the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter, in a statement. “And we know that we can begin to stem the flow with a ban on the practice of applying animal waste on frozen and snow-covered ground.”

Spreading the manure and fertilizer when the ground is frozen has no positive impact because no nutrients can seep into the soil, Hertel said. 

“In a state like Michigan, pretty much anywhere a farm can be located is connected to a watershed that can then end up in the Great Lakes,” he said.

He said the Sierra Club has made the action one of its legislative priorities for the season. Hertel and Hopgood are hoping to get a hearing on the bill with the Natural Resources Committee.