Clean Water New Year’s Resolutions

The year 2017 rings in with many of us, all over the planet, resolving to do better.

  • Get in better shape.
  • Become more skilled and a better co-worker on the job.
  • Be more altruistic and a better member of society.

As a planet, becoming better stewards of clean water can be added to this list. But what can we do?

The City of Bellevue, WA, offers terrific suggestions to its residents for reducing contamination to surface water. Pollution from cities like Bellevue is called point pollution, as described below in an excerpt from the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) site:

The term “point source” means any discernible, confined and discrete conveyance, including but not limited to any pipe, ditch, channel, tunnel, conduit, well, discrete fissure, container, rolling stock, concentrated animal feeding operation, or vessel or other floating craft, from which pollutants are or may be discharged.

Importantly, point pollution does not include agricultural storm water discharges and return flows from irrigated agriculture. Otherwise known as farm runoff.

Managing Animal Grazing Helps Prevent Toxic Water Runoff.

Point pollution, often to the surprise of many, also does not account for the vast majority of surface water pollution across the USA and elsewhere. That responsibility lies with agriculture, and farm runoff.

In this 2014 Scientific American article, Lake Erie Basin farm fields are cited as being responsible for at least 60% of the phosphorus now reaching Lake Erie. Phosphorus is the key nutrient feeding the epic algae blooms occurring annually in the lake. This 60% figure is tossed around regularly — in many places the percentage is as high as 80% — wherever and whenever agriculture, algae blooms and phosphorus are discussed.

So, in addition to what Bellevue, WA suggests we as individuals can do to foster clean surface water, let’s encourage agriculture to resolve to follow some guidelines for the new year as well. Priority areas noted below, and the specific practices recommended, come from the Environmental Protection Agency’s guide: National Management Measures to Control Non-point Source Pollution from Agriculture.

Conservation Tillage – leaving crop residue (plant materials from past harvests) on the soil surface reduces runoff and soil erosion, conserves soil moisture, helps keep nutrients and pesticides on the field, and improves soil, water, and air quality;
Crop Nutrient Management – fully managing and accounting for all nutrient inputs helps ensure nutrients are available to meet crop needs while reducing nutrient movements off fields. It also helps prevent excessive buildup in soils and helps protect air quality;
Pest Management – varied methods for keeping insects, weeds, disease, and other pests below economically harmful levels while protecting soil, water, and air quality;
Conservation Buffers – from simple grassed waterways to riparian areas, buffers provide an additional barrier of protection by capturing potential pollutants that might otherwise move into surface waters.
Strategic Irrigation Water Management – reducing non-point source pollution of ground and surface waters caused by irrigation systems;
Grazing Management – minimizing the water quality impacts of grazing and browsing activities on pasture and range lands;
Animal Feeding Operations (AFOs) Management – minimizing impacts of animal feeding operations and waste discharges through runoff controls, waste storage, waste utilization, and nutrient management;
Erosion and Sediment Control – conserving soil and reducing the mass of sediment reaching a water body, protecting both agricultural land and water quality and habitat.

The new year has arrived. Here’s hoping it will be a good one for everyone — starting with the water we share.

Private Regulation of WI Farm Operations Ill-advised

At a time when the number of  factory farms has risen precipitously, cutting regulatory staff tasked to ensure these operations remain compliant with regulations is a curious, questionable move.  But, in WI, this is precisely the what is happening.

According to a recent article in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, pressure to reduce budgets has resulted in a 18% reduction in staff at the WI Department of Natural Resources, since 1995. This, while the number of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) permits in WI has more than doubled in the past decade.

cafograph_lg-2Even more troubling? Fines for pollution in WI hit a 30-year low in 2015.

Several counties in WI are struggling with — perhaps suffering under is a more appropriate description — massive increases in dairy cows in their region, and the incredibly large amounts of manure these herds create. Kewaunee County, as has been mentioned numerous times in prior blogs here, is perhaps the best current example.

While nobody argues the value of manure as a valuable source of fertilizer for farm operations, it is also clear that manure is a primary contributor to non-point pollution which results in devastating algae blooms as seen annually in Lake Erie, Lake Okeechobee, and many other rivers, streams and lakes across the USA.

Wisconsin lawmakers suggest that cooperative regulation will make the process more efficient, less costly, and will result in better practices resulting in decreased pollution, etc.

Perhaps.

But just as likely, if not even more so, is that environmental costs in the form of contaminated ground water, surface water dead zones, algae blooms, and the inherent health risks within area communities, will far outweigh whatever meager savings and questionable efficiencies are attained.

Resources like CWAC, CWA, can only help the HAB cause.

I recently joined a terrific organization, Clean Water Action Council (CWAC) of Northeast WI, which provides superb content for anyone interested in clean water in Wisconsin – in all its forms. Ground, surface, non-point (runoff from communities and agriculture, etc.), and more. For 31 years, CWAC has been working to support legislature, and calling attention to issues that have an impact on clean water in and around Green Bay, WI, including the Fox River Valley, Kewaunee County, and Door County.

CAFO operation - Kewaunee County, WI
CAFO operation – Kewaunee County, WI

Since this area of the Midwest is one that is deeply – and seemingly negatively –  impacted by a wild increase in Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), CWAC is a great example of a local group making a difference, and they are not alone.

Indeed, on its site CWAC offers information links and tools that can even extend beyond its target area. An example:

Who are your local water polluters?

Two national websites provide detailed data about pollution sources in local communities. Just type in your zip code and you may find more than you really wanted to know!

The Scorecard, by Environmental Defense http://www.scorecard.org/

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency http://iaspub.epa.gov/triexplorer/tri_release.chemical

For more information: http://dnr.wi.gov/wnrmag/html/stories/2003/feb03/pbde.htm

On a national level, Clean Water Action (CWA) works to promote clean water and a healthy environment, via its network of state organizations.

What does it all mean? Good news — and terrific resources —  for any interested in becoming involved with, or educated about, clean water initiatives.

HAB Activity? Follow The Herd ….

I got curious today, after considering poor Toledo, Ohio’s ongoing battle with Harmful Algae Blooms (HABs) in its Western Lake Erie drinking water source. And so, I posed a question: In OH, and WI, where are the preponderance of HABs? And, accordingly, where is the heaviest dairy production?

At the risk of making you, the reader, dig deep to find the information I gathered, I am going to here and now provide you with links to my reference articles:

Western Lake Erie Algae Bloom Projections

2007 State of OH Concentration of accepted Dairy Farm Permits (>700 cows)

Milk Production By County, Wisconsin, 2014

Toxic Algae Blooms On The Rise

And now, the unsurprising results from this search: wherever HABs are most impactful on a large scale (see: Toledo; see: The Green Bay of Lake MI), the largest presence of dairy cows and

UW-Milwaukee Students Sample Green Bay Waters
UW-Milwaukee Students Sample Green Bay Waters

milk production are either already dominant within the state (WI) — or are trending heavily in that direction (OH).

If best-practice standards for farmers remain marginally regulated, and farm operation regulations pale in comparison to what is required from municipalities, HABs will become an increasingly regular event with corresponding intensity.

In other words … this crappy situation is only going to get worse.