Animal Manure Fouling Chesapeake Bay

By J.R. Pegg

WASHINGTON, DC, July 30, 2004 (ENS) - Cattle, pigs and chickens within the Chesapeake Bay watershed produce some 44 million tons of manure each year and far too much of it is seeping into the Bay, according to a new report by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. The report says this pollution must be reined in if efforts to restore the health of the Bay are to succeed.

"The Chesapeake Bay is being choked by excess manure, and despite years of effort the Bay's water quality is not improving," said CBF President William Baker. "Action to stop the pollution must begin now, not next year or several years from now."

There is broad agreement that the Chesapeake Bay is an ecosystem in serious peril, and despite a slew of agreements and goals to protect and restore the Bay, little has changed in past decade.

The nation's largest estuary continues to suffer from an unnatural influx of nitrogen and phosphorous, which come from sewage wastewater, agricultural runoff, urban runoff and air pollution.

These pollutants feed massive algae blooms that kill fish and Bay grasses, which provide vital habitat for the Bay's famous blue crabs.

Robbing the water of oxygen, these algae blooms can form massive dead zones - last year a dead zone covered 40 percent of the Chesapeake's main stem and stretched 150 miles.

The Chesapeake Bay watershed covers more than 64,000 square miles and the foundation says the Bay has more land draining into it relative to its volume of water than any other major body of water in the world. bay

The federal/state entity overseeing for restoration of the Bay acknowledged this month that models suggesting improvement were miselading. (Photo courtesy Chesapeake Bay Program)
This makes it particularly vulnerable to pollutants that come off the land and agricultural runoff is the largest source of pollution affecting the Bay.

Animal manure is largest source of agricultural pollution, the single biggest source of nitrogen and phosphorous applied to the land, and the second biggest source of nitrogen that enters the Bay, according to the report.

The study notes that modern intensive animal operations generate massive manure surpluses. This manure is collected and usually spread on field crops.

The excess nitrogen and phosphorous not absorbed by the crop or the soil seep into groundwater and surface water or are released into the air and ultimately end up in the Bay.

The report identifies three "hot spots" within the Bay's watershed where livestock produce far more animal manure than local farmers can use as fertilizer.

The three areas - Virginia's Rockingham County, Pennsylvania's Lancaster County, and the Delmarva Peninsula - together generate 54 percent of the nitrogen from manure in the watershed, even though they constitute only 23 percent of the land area.

Rockingham County is the nation's largest turkey producer and the foundation says it has more excess manure on its animal farms than any other county in America. runoff

Cows, hogs and chickens in the Bay watershed produce 44 million tons of manure a year. (Photo courtesy USDA)
Lancaster County, a major milk and dairy producer, has the second highest agricultural production of any county east of the Mississippi.

The Delmarva Peninsula, which consists of Delaware and the Eastern shores of Maryland and Virginia, is one of the top chicken producing regions in the nation.

Changing the diets of livestock and poultry would be a good step in addressing the manure problem, the report says.

Some poultry growers have cut manure phosphorous by 16 percent by changing the composition of their animals feed, and the report says there is the potential to cut it by some 50 percent.

New research suggests changes in dairy feed could cut pollution in cow manure by 40 percent and save farmers millions of dollars, the report says.

The foundation is calling on the six states of the Bay watershed to follow the lead of Pennsylvania, which is holding a summit in October to improve dairy feed efficiency. runoff

The blue crab - a symbol for many of the Chesapeake Bay - continues to suffer from poor water quality. (Photo courtesy Maryland Sea Grant)
It recommends requiring safeguards for the spreading of manure on cropland throughout the watershed, including efforts to limit air releases and surface runoff and to prevent direct manure discharges into surface waters through the use of setbacks and vegetated buffers.

Bay states need to prepare strategies to establish viable alternative uses for manure, the foundation said, should explore ways to fund these efforts, including "user fees" such as additional taxes on meat and dairy products.

The report calls on Bay states to lobby the federal government to fund the $20 million Chesapeake Bay Working Lands Nutrient Reduction Pilot Program.

Although it was granted authority by Congress in the 2002 Farm Bill, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has not implemented the program.

The report also calls on the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council to complete implementation plans for strategies to address nitrogen and phosphorous pollution in the Bay's tributaries.

"The Bay restoration effort is at a tipping point, on the brink of either success or failure," said Chesapeake Bay Foundation Vice President Theresa Pierno. "Governments, businesses, and citizens must all contribute to reducing nutrient pollution from manure. The Chesapeake Bay region should lead the world in efficiently using manure as a resource for both economic and environmental benefit."