Saturday, Mar 25, 2017
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Keith Burris

COMMENTARY

It’s the manure, stupid

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Second of two parts

Sandy Bihn, of Lake Erie Waterkeeper, does not mince words. She says the core problem with toxic algae in Lake Erie is animal waste. She says there is no legal TMDL — total maximum daily load — set for manure. We need a TMDL, then we need to enforce it.

Ms. Bihn believes, based on anecdotal evidence, that much more livestock is being brought into Ohio every year by mega-farms and agribusiness — thousands of new head of hogs and cattle. She says much of their waste goes into Lake Erie. There is a fundamental human responsibility to clean up the mess you make, she says. And a fundamental ecological one to treat the waste your animals create.

Our leading guardian of the water says: It’s the manure, stupid.

Though he is more of a glass half-full guy, Frank Szollosi of the National Wildlife Federation does not disagree. It’s great that we have now set the policy and the standards, he says. But now we must measure compliance, have it reported to the public, and be able to verify it.

First, we have to know precisely how much animal waste is going into Lake Erie and what the TMDL for safe water is. Then there must be an enforcement process and mechanism, or the lake will keep being polluted and degraded.

Ms. Bihn says we will need adequate supplies of political will and public interest to make that happen. Neither is yet in evidence. She speaks of the stories several Ohio scientists tell of how the late Gov. James Rhodes cleaned up Lake Erie the first time.

The problem was human waste (as it is animal waste now) and laundry detergent — phosphates. Mr. Rhodes had no trouble knocking heads and going toe to toe with Procter & Gamble. I have heard those tales also. Supposedly, he would close the door, bang on the table, and say no one was leaving until solutions were identified and commitments made.

Gov. John Kasich, who, like Mr. Rhodes and George Voinovich, is a genuine champion of the lake, may have to face down the meat industry, which, it has been said, is as powerful as the cigarette industry in America. Eventually, the farm animal waste will have to be treated, just as human waste is. There is too much to not do so. That’s what Ms. Bihn believes.

The biggest, and most immediate, thing we can do to save the lake is reduce the manure runoff into it, Ms. Bihn says. That will ultimately mean more expensive beef and pork, or eating less of each. But both outcomes seem a small price for saving a great lake.

Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.

Contact him at: kburris@theblade.com or 419-724-6266.

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