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Great Lakes Article:

Scientist sees 'collision course' with agricultural manure issue
By Tom Henry
Toledo Blade
Published April 3rd, 2005


BOWLING GREEN - Great Lakes research was the dominant theme of the Ohio Academy of Science's 114th annual meeting at Bowling Green State University yesterday, generating a familiar A-to-Z discussion of issues ranging from algae to zebra mussels.
But it was an old agricultural problem that captivated listeners for almost three hours: cow manure.

Cow manure has become an emotional and complex problem, given the growing number of large dairy farms in Ohio and Michigan, officials said.

Speakers noted that it's not the same problem that some of our grandparents had on their cow pastures, at least in terms of volume.

Much of today's manure is produced in concentrated animal feeding operations, some of which have herds numbering 5,000 cows.

Leading the boom in Ohio and Michigan are Dutch companies squeezed out of Holland while up against strict land-use laws, officials said.

Just recently, soil and water testing began five miles east of Portage, Ohio, which could result in Wood County's fourth major dairy farm.

Concentrated animal feeding operations are regulated.

But researchers and environmental activists question how much manure flows off those facilities after heavy rains and pollutes nearby streams or groundwater.

The Great Lakes and other bodies of water are affected.

"The truth is, there are no accidents. It's all management. In Ohio, we don't have good management," said Julie Weatherington-Rice, a senior scientist for a Columbus firm and an adjunct assistant professor at Ohio State University.

She said the state is "heading for a collision course" on the issue.

James Hoorman, OSU extension agent in Kenton, Ohio, said dairy manure is especially troublesome: It is up to 98 percent water.

Because it is fluid, it flows quickly through cracks and crevices in the land, he said.

Forty percent of dairy farms exempt from concentrated feeding regulations have voluntarily developed manure management plans.

But only 25 percent of those follow their plan, he said.

The CAFO discussion was the focus of a separate symposium.

Kevin Elder, executive director of the state agriculture department's livestock environmental permitting program, said Ohio has fewer than a third of the farms it did in 1910, and that some of them have 10 times the livestock of a century ago.

There is no limit to the number of CAFOs that can obtain permits. But they must have sufficient acreage and environmentally sound plans for dealing with manure, Mr. Elder said.

He and other speakers said the impact of mega farms is a rising concern, but that there are other pollution sources, such as raw sewage overflows.

Toledo is spending $450 million to address its sewage overflows and settle U.S. EPA violations.

Other runoff sources include faulty septic tanks, goose droppings, and farm fertilizers.

"The largest loads going out to Lake Erie are not manure, but chemical fertilizers," Mr. Elder said.

Yesterday's keynote address was by Roy Stein, an OSU researcher recognized as one of the world's experts in lake ecology.

He said small invasive fish from Europe called round gobies have driven a higher level of cancer-causing PCBs up the human food chain.

Gobies pass along PCBs to smallmouth bass, a sportfish, by eating zebra mussels.

The theory was espoused in the mid-1990s after gobies first entered the Great Lakes via the ballast water of ocean vessels.

The Ohio Academy of Sciences' 1,500 members are government and industry scientists, regulators, academic researchers, and students.

This year's event drew 500, Lynn Elfner, the academy's chief executive officer, said.

A University of Toledo geology professor, Mark Camp, was elected yesterday to serve as the academy's president for the following year, Mr. Elfner said.

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