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The misbegotten promise of anaerobic digesters – The Counter

March 9, 2021

by Jessica McKenzie

Federal agencies and state governments are spending millions on anaerobic digesters to wring renewable energy from animal poop. But critics say “cow power” from factory farms is neither clean nor green.

At a glance, anaerobic digesters seem like the perfect solution to one of society’s many messes: They take the waste from cows, pigs, and chickens raised en masse for human consumption, and from literal shit generate energy to power our cars, homes, and electronics. What could be more renewable than manure?

To that end, last year, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) announced $16 million in funding for new and existing on-farm anaerobic digesters, an additional windfall for a sector that has already received more than $26 million from the agency. It’s a big investment, but NYSERDA is just one government agency bankrolling the digester industry: A database of renewable energy policies and programs across the country lists 96 financial incentives for anaerobic digesters, including property tax reductions, corporate tax credits, loan programs, grant programs, and performance-based incentives.

Every day, a 1,400-pound dairy cow will generate about 120 pounds or 14 gallons of feces and urine. At larger dairies, that can really add up. Take Fair Oaks Farms in Indiana, for example, home to 38,000 dairy cows. One of Fair Oaks’ on-site digesters takes in 650,000 gallons of manure from 15,000 cows every day—and that is less than half of the manure the farm produces. It is an almost unfathomable amount of cow crap. Without a digester, disposing of it all is tricky, and the more you have, the harder it is.




Ohio EPA agrees to TMDL for western Lake Erie – Toledo Blade

February 13, 2020

The state of Ohio appears ready to institute something environmental groups have been clamoring for since Toledo’s 2014 algae-driven water crisis: a Total Maximum Daily Load, or TMDL, for western Lake Erie.

TMDLs are so-called “pollution diets” for ecosystems. They are designed to track down specific sources of pollution, and hold polluters accountable. In the case of Ohio’s agricultural industry, a TMDL would, in theory, limit the amount of phosphorus, nitrogen, and other fertilizers that farmers are allowed to let into area waterways on a case-by-case basis. Such nutrients grow algal blooms in Lake Erie’s western basin.

The former Kasich administration and, more recently, the current DeWine administration, resisted calls for a western Lake Erie TMDL. But late Thursday, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency said it “will develop a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for the Western Basin [of Lake Erie] over the next two to three years.”

That statement was contained in the fourth paragraph of a news release in which the Ohio EPA announced it had released the draft 2020 water quality report about the general status of state waterways for discussion. Such reports are required to be submitted to the U.S. EPA once every two years.


U.S.- CANADA Board: The Great Lakes Have a Manure Problem

January 26, 2020

The Center for Public Integrity - Jamie Smith Hopkins, Environment Editor and Senior Reporter

“It is a profound injustice that the citizens of Toledo have had to clean up a mess that other people have made,” Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz said in an interview.

An advisory panel for a U.S.-Canada commission is calling for government agencies in the Great Lakes region to overhaul how they manage farm animal manure, recommendations intended to protect people from toxins fouling area water.

The report by the International Joint Commission’s Great Lakes Water Quality Board was completed in September but made public Jan. 24, the day after an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity, Grist and The World into Lake Erie’s manure problem. The board’s report found that manure running off farm fields “contributes significantly” to the overloading of nutrients such as phosphorus that fuel toxic algae blooms in the region, Lake Erie included.

That manure must go somewhere. Too often, it’s being applied to fields at elevated levels that increase the risk of runoff, according to a review of Ohio permit documentation for farms in the western Lake Erie region by Public Integrity and its partners.


Lake Erie Turns Toxic Every Summer. Voluntary Approach Total Failure

January 23, 2020

The Center for Public Integrity - Jamie Smith Hopkins, Environment Editor and Senior Reporter

OREGON, Ohio — It was sunny and 82 degrees, a perfect August day for a trip to the public beach just outside Toledo. But hardly anyone was here. And no one was swimming. “DANGER,” warned a red sign posted in the sand near the edge of Lake Erie. “Avoid all contact with the water.”

The reason: The water was contaminated with algae-like cyanobacteria, which can produce toxins that sicken people and kill pets. This is the noxious goo that cut off about 500,000 Toledo-area residents from their tap water for three days in 2014 and made at least 110 people ill

It suddenly seems like harmful algae blooms are everywhere. In some cases, they’re hard to miss, forming a colorful layer of muck on waterways; in others, they lurk below the surface, fortifying themselves before bursting back into view.  

Hazardous algae scuttled swimming at Mississippi’s mainland beaches on the Gulf of Mexico for most of the last summer. They killed dozens of dolphins and hurt tourist-dependent businesses in Florida over a 16-month stretch that finally ended in February 2019. Scientists suspect they’re causing clusters of deadly liver disease across the country. In rare cases, they’ve killed people shortly after contact.

Even as toxic algae triggered no-drink orders in at least three more communitiesin 2018, data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency shows just how much worse the problem could get: Nearly 150 public water systems in 33 states have reported spotting algae blooms near their intakes in reservoirs or other water sources since 2017, in many cases multiple times, according to an analysis by the Center for Public Integrity, Grist and The World.




Slip-slidin’ Away

November 19, 2019

Livestock sewage dumping on farm fields continues in the Western Lake Erie Basin.  Today, we have two more examples of manure application on snow, thawing, saturated ground.  Snow from last week is melting, freeze/thaw soil conditions, ground is saturated.  The roads around these fields are a mess, with a trail of manure and mud on Beecher Rd. in Hudson Township.

Cash crops won’t be planted until next spring, so there’s no need for fertilizer.

First up - Last week before roughly 8" of snow fell here, Hartland Farms applied liquid manure on corn stubble.  It wasn't incorporated.  If this field is designated as "no-till" (and many of them are), they don't have to incorporate this within 24 hours; in fact/ they don't have to incorporate it at all.  (This is true both in Michigan and for Ohio's "not-a-ban" rule.) East side of Hughes Hwy., south of Beecher Rd., Bear Creek/Raisin watershed.

Today, more than a week later, Hartland is applying dry solids on a different part of this same field.  The sludge you see along the bottom of the picture is actually the road itself, a mixture of mud and manure and runoff.  Southeast corner of Hughes and Beecher, Bear Creek/Raisin watershed.  Hughes Highway just south of Beecher is a mess right now.

Moving west, Hartland is also applying dry solids on the west side of Dowling Highway between Beecher and Cadmus Rds., Bean Creek/Tiffin/Maumee watershed.  Poop wagon dropping its load just went over the top of the hill, out of view, as this photo was taken.

Farther south on Dowling, same application. You can see the snow hasn't entirely melted yet.

We promise you, this isn’t just happening here.  Our CAFOs aren’t the only ones who have to dispose of their waste in these conditions.

The one sure thing about manure farming is that production never stops, and it has to go somewhere.  Just like flushing your toilet, except instead of going through the appropriate wastewater treatment, this sewage goes right onto farm fields.



Ohio cities want pig manure treated like human waste to protect Lake Erie from harmful algal blooms

October 3, 2019

By  -

CLEVELAND, Ohio – The cities of Toledo and Oregon, as well as surrounding Lucas County, want to stop manure from causing harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie.

So they’re asking the state to require two proposed confined-animal feeding operations -- with a total of 14,400 swine in the Maumee River watershed -- to treat pig waste to the same standards as human sewage.

“For communities in the western basin, we’re bearing the cost of the algae problem in the lake,” Oregon City Administrator Mike Beazley said in a phone interview. “The state loves to talk about it. And likes to spend money on things that don’t really work... We’re just asking that they hold those facilities and industries to the same standards that they hold cities.”

Ohio has spent millions of dollars to address the annual scourge of toxic algae in Lake Erie. Family farmers have adopted new practices, to cut back on phosphorus from commercial fertilizers flowing into the water. Cities have added expensive technology to treat drinking water for toxins.

Still, EPA research shows no decrease in phosphorus flowing into the lake.

The bloom this year was extensive, despite the fact that a rainy spring kept many farmers from planting fields and spreading fertilizer.

The Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center is suing the U.S. EPA over the pollution, arguing the agency must force Ohio to set a total maximum daily load of phosphorus allowed in the Maumee River. Lucas County has joined the lawsuit, and the cities of Toledo and Oregon have been recognized as interested parties.

“The state has spent way over $1 billion and it’s manifestly not working,” said Rob Michaels, an attorney for the Environmental Law and Policy Center. “New confined animal feeding operations have been springing up all over the watershed… The idea that they want to pursue alternatives and build on that is plainly incorrect. It’s like a kid’s excuse for not doing their homework. It makes no sense.”

Last week, during a four-hour hearing, a federal judge said he did not understand how Ohio plans to meet its pledge of reducing phosphorus by 40 percent by 2025, under a 2016 pact with Ontario and Michigan. The state is nowhere near meeting an interim goal of 20 percent by 2020.


Toledo officials spurred by prospect of more livestock farms – Toledo Blade

October 2, 2019

Toledo Blade - Tom Henry

Elected officials in the Toledo area have taken a new approach in their ongoing battle against large livestock operations that contribute to Lake Erie’s harmful algae blooms.

They’re asking the Ohio Department of Agriculture to require that all manure from such facilities get treated to the standards of human-made sewage before it’s spread on fields as fertilizer.

Toledo City Councilman Nick Komives also addressed the county board, stating that Toledo shouldn’t have to keep spending “layers upon layers of money” keeping algal toxins out of the city water supply when nutrients that grow algae could be better controlled at the source.

“CAFOs impact both water and air quality,” Mr. Komives said. “These are factories we’re talking about that are producing as much waste — if not more — than cities.”

All three commissioners spoke out against CAFOs.

Commissioner Pete Gerken said Ohio appears to be “engaged in almost a whack-a-mole policy” when it comes to addressing algae-forming nutrient runoff, being more reactive than proactive and waiting to address problems as they pop up.

“We are never going to get to that 40 percent reduction with the policies in place today by the state of Ohio,” Mr. Gerken said, referring to a non-binding goal the states of Ohio and Michigan signed with Ontario a few years ago to reduce phosphorus releases into area waterways 20 percent by 2020 and 40 percent by 2025, compared to 2008 levels. Scientists also have said the state is nowhere close to meeting those goals yet.

Mr. Gerken also referenced a federal court lawsuit that Lucas County has going against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency with the Environmental Law & Policy Center, as well as Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie. It centers around allegations that the U.S. EPA is failing to enforce the federal Clean Water Act by requiring Ohio to adopt a program with mandatory controls on CAFOs and other major sources of runoff.


Manure Hauling Truck overturns: Bent Oak Highway, River Raisin Watershed

May 17, 2019

Daily Telegram Staff Writer, Dan Cherry 

ADRIAN TWP. — A truck hauling manure overturned on Bent Oak Highway just south of Hunt Road Tuesday.

Rescue crews were dispatched at 10:11 a.m. to the scene, according to Lenawee County Sheriff’s Office dispatch records on a report of a truck rollover. The southbound truck had overturned into the northbound lane, spilling hundreds of pounds of manure into the ditch on the east side of Bent Oak Highway.

Manure-hauling truck overturns, spills load 05.15.2019 - The Daily Telegram - Adrian, MI - Adrian, MI - Lenconnect.com article as pdf.



Manure spill turns portions of West Michigan trout stream ‘ink black’

March 22, 2019

MLive, March 21, 2019

FREEPORT, MI -- Aaron Snell was working to clear a log jam on the Coldwater River when he noticed the water turn murky, “really murky,” he said, “unusually so.”

He traveled about four miles upstream and found the source. The water had turned black from manure.

“By the time we found where it was coming from and entered Messer Brook, there was no visibility in the water. It was ink blank,” Snell said. “It was enough to turn the water black, which I can’t say that I’ve seen before.”

Brook View Dairy, a Holland-based multi-facility dairy business with a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) at 10560 Freeport Ave., is being investigated by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality for the March 6 manure spill.

Regulators became aware of the spill after Snell found it two days later and reported it. At this time, the DEQ says there is no need for a “no water contact” advisory or fishing warnings.

Manure processed through the farm’s anaerobic digester was spread on fields March 6 about three miles east of Freeport. The ground, snow-covered and frozen, didn’t absorb it and the manure eventually ran into Messer Brook and then the Coldwater River.

The Coldwater River, which is a prized trout stream, feeds into the Thornapple River about three miles east of Caledonia.

“The DEQ received reports that portions of the Coldwater River and Messer Brook had turned black in color and had an odor," said Mike Worm, supervisor of the water quality unit for DEQ’s Grand Rapid district.

The recent incident is the dairy farm’s second spill into a tributary of the Coldwater River in just under a year. In April 2018, an estimated 5,000 and 10,000 gallons of liquid cow manure went into a tributary when a farm pipeline malfunctioned.


500,000 gallons of manure: Spill near Coldwater River marks second incident in past year

January 19, 2019

Large manure spill near Coldwater River marks second incident in past year / 1-17-19 

Christian Yonkers, Contributing Writer

Thu, Jan 17, 2019
A recent spill resulted in approximately 500,000 gallons of liquid manure released into surrounding fields and wetlands. An estimated 50,000-100,000 gallons leached into Tyler Creek, a tributary of the Coldwater River. This is the second significant agricultural waste leak in the area the the past year, the two locations represented by the map shown.

A recent manure spill marked the second significant agricultural waste spill in the Coldwater River Watershed in the past year. Saturday, Jan. 5, Swisslane Dairy in Alto self-reported a discharge from a defective valve near the border of Kent and Ionia counties. By the time the defective valve was shut off, an estimated 500,000 gallons of manure had leaked from the valve into the adjacent fields and a nearby wetland, 50,000-100,000 gallons of which made it to Tyler Creek.

Swisslane pumped 300,000-350,000 gallons from a contaminated wetland. The farm estimated reclaiming an additional 50,000 gallons from the above-ground flow path. The remaining 50,000-100,000 gallons were swept away into Tyler Creek, a tributary of the Coldwater River.

Despite the large volume of waste swept away into Tyler Creek, the incident is likely to have little impact on human and ecological health, said DEQ Senior Environmental Quality Analyst Melissa Sandborn.

“The release would have caused elevated levels of nutrients and E. coli in the receiving waters,” Sandborn said. “Due to recent weather conditions, there has been a high volume of water passing through Tyler Creek, particularly on the day of the discharge. As a result, the manure (and subsequently, nutrient and E. coli levels) was quickly diluted.”

Due to cold weather and high water levels, there is little chance that people could have come in contact with waste, Sandborn said. She confirmed the discharge has been stopped, and there is no evidence of an impending fish kill.

“This time of year, with the water being cold and most of the aquatic organisms … pretty inactive, there is probably no acute danger,” Aaron Snell, an independent environmental engineer with Streamside Ecological Services, said. “However, the nutrients, etc. associated with the manure … will persist in the system and can, many months later, fuel growth of plants and algae.”

If the spill occurred in the summer, a fish kill would have been likely, Snell said. A spill in 2006 killed nearly all fish in a 4 1/2-mile section of river.

The Swisslane spill marked the second major agricultural spill in the area in the past year. Up to 10,000 gallons of manure leached into the Coldwater in March 2018, just a few miles southeast of the Jan. 5 spill.

At this point, the DEQ has been focused on containment and clean-up. Sandborn said the case will be reviewed to determine what enforcement actions, such as fines, are appropriate.

In the meantime, Swisslane Dairy is responsible for clean-up efforts. As a part of the review of the case and potential enforcement actions, the DEQ will expect the farm to demonstrate and implement actions to prevent a future discharge.
[caption id="attachment_2720" align="alignleft" width="1024"] Swisslane Dairy Consent Order after 4 discharges - 03.30.2006                                                   Source: West Michigan Trout Unlimited, May/June 2006 Newsletter[/caption]