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E-M:/ Feedlot runoff and the Great Lakes



Courtesy of checchogs:

Farmland runoff focus of conference

Pollutants endanger drinking water in Great Lakes basin

Tom Spears
Ottawa Citizen
MONTREAL - Manure equal to the sewage from more than 100 million people is pouring into the groundwater from Ontario and Quebec farms, and scientists from the United States and Canada are gathered to fight this old problem that is becoming new again.
It is not just the smell or the fact that manure turns lakes green by fertilizing algae and weed growth. Manure also contains lethal bacteria such as E. coli and drugs such as antibiotics given to animals on a growing number of factory farms.
This weekend, the International Joint Commission -- the Canada-U.S. body that oversees the lakes -- is meeting in Montreal.
Anything that gets into the groundwater will run into the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River, said Doug Alley, a geoscientist with the commission.
And in the past two decades, as farmers have added tile drains (underground pipes to get rid of excess water in fields), the liquefied manure runs faster and faster into streams and rivers.
Great Lakes pollution science began when green algae fed by sewage and manure turned much of Lake Erie into a dead zone. That was in 1972.
Today, Mr. Alley says, "you could dust off that report and say, What ever happened 30 years ago? Not much.'
"The issue from agriculture is many-faceted," he said. There are chemical fertilizers, sludge from city sewage plants that is spread on farms, and their own manure.
The U.S. Geological Survey sampled groundwater on the U.S. side of the lower Great Lakes and found chemicals from manure were present in most rivers at levels higher than recommended for drinking water.
This month, Johanne Gelinas, Canada's environment commissioner, said the manure problem throughout the Great Lakes is getting worse and current farming practices cannot be sustained.
While factory farm proponents say manure is just a natural fertilizer, Ms. Gelinas's report said manure has a greater impact on groundwater than fertilizer because it is applied in greater concentrations.
The report found 34% of rural Ontario wells, and a similar number in Quebec, have unacceptably high bacterial levels, probably because of animal waste.
"We allow farms to release stuff that we would not allow a municipal sewage treatment plant to release," says John Jackson, former president of Great Lakes United, a mix of residents' organizations from both countries.
"This isn't simply manure. This is all kinds of drugs -- the antibiotics and hormones that are fed to animals that come out in their waste," he said.
"We're increasingly aware that antibiotics in the water are having an effect on wildlife and human health," he said.
Manure in the language of factory farms, and of the Ontario government, which has introduced a bill to begin regulating it, is a nutrient, simply a type of plant food.

It's high time for Canada to stop calling it this, Mr. Jackson said. "It's toxic waste."