‘Mega-farming’ contaminates Toledo water supply: not exactly

By Jay Bragg

Recently, 500,000 residents of Toledo, Ohio were without drinking water due to dangerously high levels of cyanotoxin in Lake Erie, produced by excessive amounts of blue-green algae.  National news outlets were quick to point their fingers at agriculture, picking up on the talking points of local politicians, activist groups, and pseudo-scientists.

Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins was quoted by the Los Angeles Times: “Once we clear this problem up, that is not going to eliminate the algae problem in the western basin of Lake Erie; that is not going to eliminate the agricultural runoff; that is not going to eliminate mega-farming.”

The Wall Street Journal reported, “Scientists say a transition from small farms to industrial-sized operations has increased runoff in recent years, and that climate change, with more intense storms and warmer temperatures, has created an ideal environment for algae to grow.”

It’s troubling that national media outlets are failing to discuss the magnitude of other contributing factors, as well as, characterizing family farms as “mega/industrial” operations.

The Lake Erie Waterkeeper claims that more than 10 billion gallons of raw or partially treated municipal sewage is discharged directly to Lake Erie from failing or outdated wastewater infrastructure each year. From 2008 to 2011, EPA reports indicated that the city of Detroit discharged more than 67 billion gallons of untreated sewage into Lake Erie. That’s a volume 319 times greater than BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

In addition, the introduction and proliferation of Zebra Mussels in Lake Erie has directly contributed to the ever worsening blue-green algae problem. Research conducted by the United States Geological Survey has concluded that Zebra Mussels filter the water and eat most algal species but rejected blue-green algae. This has created an ecological imbalance in the lake. With an ample food supply (nutrients) and little or no competition from other algal species, blue-green algae thrive.

While agriculture may contribute some nutrients to Lake Erie, Michigan and Ohio farmers have been doing their part to minimize their contributions. For decades, they have been voluntarily implementing best management practices to improve nutrient efficiencies and reduce losses.

This has resulted in 65 percent less phosphorus (the nutrient of most concern) being applied throughout the watershed. Research conducted on phosphorus transport has determined that today 98 percent of the phosphorus applied to crops remains on the field and are used by the crop—meaning less than 2 percent actually runs off when it rains.

In fact, prior to Zebra Mussels establishing themselves in Lake Erie in the early 1990s, water quality had improved substantially.

Despite their efforts, Ohio farmers have come under increasing pressure from a mostly-urban legislature. In 2013, legislation was needlessly passed in Ohio to create a nutrient licensing program for fertilizer application.

Meanwhile, EPA continues to march forward with rulemaking to expand the regulatory jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act and implement rigorous nutrient standards for all water bodies. Undoubtedly, EPA and other environmental activists groups will seek to obscure the facts and exploit this crisis to further their agenda.

Proposed actions don’t improve water quality or the environment. They simply add regulatory bureaucracy.

Farmers and ranchers must stand firm in opposition to these efforts. Join with thousands of other farmers and ranchers to help “Ditch the Rule!”

Jay Bragg is associate director of Commodity and Regulatory Activities for Texas Farm Bureau.


4 Responses to “‘Mega-farming’ contaminates Toledo water supply: not exactly”

  1. Robert Domitz says:

    A classic case of biting the hand that feeds you…..

  2. Preliminary data from UD research on tracking the sources of Phosphorus in the Chesapeake Bay have found that it is predominantly phytoplankton in nature contrary to the finger being pointed at ag. Likewise a huge amount of sewage gets released every year from the Baltimore-DC metro areas and suburbia but of course that isn’t the cause of water quality issues since that would mean pointing fingers at themselves…

  3. The radical environmental zealots won’t be satisfied until our farming operations are regulated down to 20 acre patches of ground, worked with a hoe and maybe a mule.

    Too bad the average Jane and Joe can’t grasp that ONE percent of the population can not feed 315 million people reverting back to early 1900s methods and practices. In fact, with those methods we will barely produce enough to feed ourselves, since our calorie intake will spike exponentially from the increased hand labor.

    The end goal of the “sustainability at all costs” crowd is really depopulation of the earth through massive starvation. Back in the ’60s they proudly proclaimed their philosophy, but were so shunned by the blowback they received they retreated and splintered developing a much more subtle, incremental, approach.

    Now we have mainstream, Ag organizations, who claim to be philosophically conservative playing cozy with the Environmental Working Group, et al Sleeping with the enemy is foolhardy and dangerous.

  4. George Hood says:

    Stop Feeding Those Who Complain And there Will Be Less Sewage Released Into Lake Erie. When They Are Hungry They Will Think Better Of Farmers

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