In August, when the latest algal bloom in Lake Erie fouled Toledo's water supply, many of its 400,000 residents drove 100 miles to purchase bottled water.
Few recognized the huge animal feeding "farms" that they passed in Ohio and Michigan were the source of the pollution that fed the algae that produce the toxin that poisoned their municipal drinking water.
Dissolved phosphorus from confined animal feeding operation in Ohio and southeast Michigan produces algal blooms in Lake Erie via the River Raisin at Monroe, or as tributaries of the Maumee River emptying into Lake Erie near Toledo.
Blue-green algae, microcystis, produces the potentially lethal toxin, microcystin. Microcystin is costly to treat in public water systems, and at high concentrations impossible to remove.
Pity our Lake Erie.
Cleveland's polluted rivers caught fire in 1972 instigating the Clean Water Act. In the 1980's mismanaged municipal sanitary sewers and phosphate-laden detergents caused vast algal blooms in Lake Erie leading to international and state clean-ups.
"Dead" Lake Erie rebounded after phosphorus reduction strategies worked then. Now the newest technology, industrialized farming, is ruining Lake Erie again.
No doubt the source of the phosphorus that feeds the algal fouling of Lake Erie that poisoned Toledo's water supply is agricultural runoff into the Maumee River.
Liquid manure applied improperly on Ohio and Michigan CAFO fields runs directly into the tributaries of the Maumee.
The question remains: Why do the great states of Ohio and Michigan allow a heavily subsidized industry, CAFOs, to threaten the water quality and health of their citizens?
State regulators, starting with MDEQ's Jackson District, administer CAFOs in Lenawee and Hillsdale Counties.
MDEQ should enforce existing clean water regulations, and close those CAFOs that have racked up thousands of violations.
Michigan and Ohio should ban the risky application of liquid manure during the frozen winter months.
Soil tests for pathogens and high phosphorus concentrations should be done twice per year instead of once every three years.
CAFOs receive multi-million dollar federal and state subsidies to build giant lagoons for the animal waste produced by the unfortunate thousands of animal that are confined there.
CAFOs in SE Michigan produce billions of pounds of untreated animal waste annually. Without these "agricultural" subsidies" and lax enforcement of clean water standards CAFOs would close in a week.
Want a $300,000 tractor? Apply for an AG subsidy. Want to spray untreated animal waste on your fields in volumes unabsorbable? The government will pay for your pumps.
From extreme nutrient loading to virulent drug resistant pathogens Lake Erie is again the sacrificial water.
Governmental regulators are well aware of the threat to Lake Erie, but have done little to save it.
"Right to Farm" proponents and international CAFO investors have sway. Still, staring down at the chartreuse stew flowing into county drains adjacent to subsidized CAFOs, one wonders, "Is industrialized CAFO agriculture sustainable"? No way.
— Mark Muhich lives in Summit Township and is the conservation chairman of the Central Michigan Group Sierra Club.