IT IS NO mystery that Ohio faces significant challenges with regard to addressing water pollution. In an agricultural state with large numbers of meat and dairy-producing animals and other farms raising field crops, water is at a particularly high risk of contamination.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state regulators recently refused to identify Lake Erie as officially impaired by the nutrients that cause toxic algae blooms — the same type of pollutants that contaminated the drinking water for half a million Ohioans in Toledo in 2014. This has forced the rest of us to kick into high gear our fight for clean and safe drinking water and the future of Lake Erie in order to prevent another drinking water crisis.
If you take a look at the number of concentrated animal feeding operations, or factory farms, and the level of industrial corn and soybean production in Ohio, including within the western Lake Erie watershed, it’s no surprise Lake Erie is polluted.
Factory farms produce enormous amounts of manure. In all, Ohio’s factory farms contain approximately 1.6 million hogs, 55,000 dairy cows, 23 million egg-laying hens, 4.8 million broiler chickens, and 62,000 beef cattle. These animals produce as much untreated manure as 59 million people — five times the population of Ohio. This manure is usually stored in open-air lagoons before being applied to land — often in quantities that exceed the soil’s ability to incorporate it. This takes place across Ohio, including in the Lake Erie watershed.
This waste can and does seep into groundwater and runs off into streams and rivers, eventually reaching Lake Erie itself. Meanwhile, commonplace agricultural processes, including the production of corn and soybeans utilized in feed production for factory farming, require fertilizer use.
According to the EPA, fertilizers and animal manure are two of the most prevalent sources of nutrient pollution that fuel the growth of dangerous and toxic algal blooms.
For years, Ohio has avoided meaningful reform when it comes to the prevention of these blooms, which pose a threat to human health, aquatic ecosystems and organisms, and drinking water. It’s no secret that Big Ag donates lavishly to Ohio legislators. These legislators, in return, are denying the role factory farming plays in polluting Lake Erie.
Listing Lake Erie’s Ohio waters as impaired would have required the creation of a cleanup plan to address the pollutants that cause toxic algal blooms, including those created by factory farming pollution. Failure to do so continues to expose the public and our drinking water supplies to unacceptable levels of risk. The public loses. Who wins? Big Ag.
In declining to list Lake Erie as impaired, the EPA and the state of Ohio are refusing to acknowledge the serious water pollution issues that have resulted from years of regulatory failure and have once again declined to make any real progress toward addressing the pollution.
It’s time for the EPA, the governor, and state legislators to protect our future by standing up to Big Ag — and by standing for clean water.
Sandy Bihn is the executive director of Lake Erie Foundation/Waterkeeper. Krissy Kasserman is the national factory farm campaigner for Food & Water Watch.
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