Michigan officials suggest new controls on farm animal waste
Lansing – Michigan regulators are proposing restrictions on spreading livestock manure as fertilizer, including a ban on applying animal waste to fields during winter.
In October, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, or EGLE, released its recommended controls that would be part of a revamped process of assessing the environmental hazards of spreading livestock wastes. The proposal is part of a new draft general permit for industrial scale agriculture businesses.
The department is holding public hearings in Adrian, Grand Rapids and Lansing on its amended pollution discharge permit for concentrated animal feeding operations, commonly known as CAFOs, MLive.com reported.
Among the larger changes suggested is an embargo on spreading manure in January, February and March, when the ground may be frozen and there is higher danger of nutrients in the waste sliding into waterways instead of seeping into the soil. Some spreading could occur at the end of March with state regulatory authorization.
Public comment is open until Dec. 18 on the recommended updates to the state’s general National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit program for CAFOs, which was last revised in 2015 and applies to about 260 licensed farms in Michigan.
Farm industry supporters are criticizing the proposed changes, saying they’re unfeasible, establish new paperwork requirements for agribusiness operators and will put Michigan farms out of business.
On the other hand, environmental advocates contend the new requirements are significant measures that will safeguard water quality and enhance public access to records. Some groups, such as the Sierra Club, are additionally pushing for facility caps on livestock head and a complete embargo on spreading manure on frozen or snow-covered ground.
In Michigan, waste from confined animal farms is usually stored in large lagoons and spread on fields as crop fertilizer. While that can help increase crop yield, it can also lessen water quality when nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen run off into lakes, streams and rivers.
Michigan has delegated authority from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to issue NPDES permits and the state noted its recommended modifications were created with the EPA’s input.
EGLE spokesperson Scott Deans said the propose updates were issued after several meetings this spring with agriculture, environmental and local government groups. The state is holding three public hearings in December to address community concerns.
“There have been numerous discharges from land application of CAFO waste, especially during the past winter, and this has raised further concerns,” Dean wrote via email.