PennFuture: Manure Increasing in Key Region Draining into Chesapeake Bay, Despite Pledges

by Shana Campbell Jones

September 29, 2009

Today PennFuture released a report finding that the amount of liquid manure applied to farms in Pennsylvania’s Octoraro watershed has increased by 40 percent over the past five years to 108 million gallons annually. The amount of nitrogen produced by livestock in the watershed is equal to the amount generated by approximately 370,000 people each year.

Unlike Las Vegas, what happens in the Octoraro watershed doesn’t stay in the watershed. The watershed, which includes parts of Lancaster and Chester counties, drains into the Susquehanna River, the Chesapeake Bay’s largest tributary. According to the report, 99 percent of all liquid manure produced in the Octoraro watershed is applied on fields within the watershed.

Everyone who follows Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts knows that the federal and state partners in the Bay Program make promises they don’t intend to keep because, ultimately, the states will not hold their citizens accountable for the pollution they create. When it comes to dealing with agriculture, the states have only had the stomach for voluntary approaches. And when the states do regulate, their inspection and enforcement programs are anemic at best. PennFuture’s report provides even more evidence for this dynamic.

For example, according to the report, 43 percent of livestock operations in the Octoraro watershed were not in compliance with their state nutrient management plans, yet the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is nowhere in sight. As Bill Andreen discussed recently, a huge problem with protecting water quality in this country is that the Clean Water Act does not directly regulate runoff from farms and other “nonpoint sources.” It's time for Congress to require states to establish credible enforcement programs for nonpoint sources and give EPA the authority and resources to reinforce these enforcement efforts.

In the same vein, of the 23 of the 54 livestock operations in the watershed large enough to be regulated as CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations), the DEP has inspected only 13 of them in the past five years. These 23 CAFOs generate more than 60% of the total manure and more than 70 percent of the nitrogen in the Octoraro watershed. Given the impact these CAFOs have on the Chesapeake Bay’s health, both the state – and EPA – should be doing more than inspecting about half of them every five years.

Promises to protect the Bay have been piling up for years. So, apparently, has the poop. It’s not a happy trend.

See also our previous: EPA's Chesapeake Bay Reports: A First Look, The Chesapeake Bay and Beyond: Pollution Targets Met, Not Just Set, and Saving the Chesapeake Bay: Time to Hold the States Accountable.

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