Legislation would prevent spreading manure, CAFO waste on snow-covered, frozen ground

LANSING — State Rep. Kevin Hertel (D-St. Clair Shores) and state Sen. Hoon-Yung Hopgood (D-Taylor) have introduced legislation that would prohibit the application of manure, fertilizer or waste from livestock operations to frozen or snow-covered ground.

Industrial-sized livestock operations, known as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), contribute to waterway pollution in Michigan, and were one factor that lead to the 2014 Lake Erie toxic algae bloom, which left half a million people without clean drinking water. Michigan does not currently ban the practice of applying CAFO wastes to snow-covered and frozen ground.

“CAFOs generate millions of gallons of waste each year that is then spread on land as fertilizer. When it’s applied to snow-covered or frozen ground, the soil can’t absorb the nutrients, leading to runoff problems,” said Hertel. “While agriculture is a major industry in Michigan, our water is our most precious resource. We need to take steps to better protect the Great Lakes and other waterways that millions of Michiganders rely on.”

Nutrient pollution has become so problematic that the International Joint Commission, created by Canada and the U.S., called for a complete ban on applying CAFO waste to frozen, or snow-covered, ground.

“The environmental and economic consequences of nutrient pollution cannot be ignored,” Sen. Hopgood said. “We’re simply asking CAFOs to refrain from applying manure in the winter months when it is much less useful, to help combat toxic algae blooms in our Great Lakes. We must act now to combat this growing threat to our health and economy.”

Michigan has declared Lake Erie an impaired watershed for nutrients including phosphorous, which means that the state can require more strict standards. Michigan, Ohio and Ontario have committed to jointly reducing nutrients into Lake Erie by 40 percent, but Michigan is the only member still relying 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. “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. Sierra Club is deeply grateful for our legislators’ leadership on this crucial issue. This bill is an important first step toward cleaning up Lake Erie and building a healthy future for the Great Lakes.”

“In a perfect world, voluntary compliance would work well, but the problems we’ve seen in Lake Erie and other Michigan communities have shown us that we need to do more,” said Hertel. “Prohibiting fertilizer application to frozen or snow-covered ground is a common-sense way to prevent one source of run-off that is jeopardizing the health of our water—a resource that families, businesses and industry rely on.”

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