Residents and scientists are aware of the negative effects to Lake Michigan created by runoff from farms fertilized with manure, yet regulators say their hands are tied on testing.
State environmental regulators acknowledge the potential problem with liquid manure, but they say their hands are tied when it comes to even assessing the threat that comes from its day-to-day use. The problem, they say, is federal rules regarding pathogen discharges from big farms are so stringent that owners who test and find even a trace leaving the croplands could be dealt crippling penalties. And nobody wants to see a farm shut down.
The issue has come to a head here in southern Manitowoc County, where liquefied manure gets spread on fields that have been engineered and plumbed to drain as quickly as possible - into the world's fifth largest lake.
Scientists say many factors contribute to outbreak, but homeowners point to manure
But scientists and regulators say there is no simple reason for the outbreak of a type of algae called cladophora that is plaguing stretches of Lake Michigan's shoreline in both Wisconsin and Michigan.
They say it's a complex phenomenon driven by increased water clarity because of filter-feeding invasive mussels, an off-shore rocky bottom on which the sun-loving, stringy green algae needs to grow, prevailing lake currents and an ample supply of phosphorous, which is indeed a component of cow manure.
Targeting one farm, or even one group of farms, might be a start in addressing the cladophora problem, scientists say, but it won't come close to solving it.
Get a sneak peek of the all-new AOL.com.