Food Service & Agriculture, Government, and Sustainability

Dairy farm leaks manure into creek

February 17, 2014
| By AP |
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Liquid manure has leaked from an open-air lagoon at a dairy farm into a creek and spread for at least five miles, state officials said Monday.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality said it began investigating Friday after getting calls about a possible spill. Temperatures were in the teens Monday, and the DEQ said the cold weather helped lessen potential problems with the manure and bacteria.

"It will disperse as it goes," DEQ spokesman Brad Wurfel said.

Valve failure

DEQ analyst Bruce Washburn said a stormwater system failure at Schaendorf dairy farm in Monterey Township, about 30 miles southwest of Grand Rapids, led to the leak into the Allegan County drain system.

Manure seeped into Bear Creek and reached the village of Hopkins. Communities don't draw drinking water from the affected area, Wurfel said.

"It's going to take time to naturally flush the manure out of the stream and creeks," Washburn said. "But the farm is also working to mitigate as much as they can at this point by pumping out water and manure downstream of where the spill occurred to the extent they can."

A valve failed between the stormwater system and the lagoon, which allowed manure to back up into the stormwater pipes, Washburn said. It wasn't known Monday how much manure got into the drainage system or how long the leak lasted, the DEQ said.

Washburn said farm staff stopped the flow Saturday morning. Since then, workers at the farm have been trying to pump manure out of drainage ditches.

Farm owner John Schaendorf, who said he was out of state at the time the spill was discovered, told TV station WXMI that crews are working to collect the manure. He said workers plugged the broken valve area with concrete, so more liquid manure can't escape.

"We did make sure it isn't going to happen again," Schaendorf said.

Bear Creek

The manure seeped into Bear Creek, which feeds into the Rabbit River, a tributary of the Kalamazoo River that eventually ends up in Lake Michigan.

Manure spills can kill fish by boosting the growth of bacteria in the water and depleting oxygen from the water.

Cold water temperatures during the winter are mitigating these effects, and so far, there has been no harm seen to fish, Wurfel said. It's also too cold for people to be in the water for recreation.

People in the area should avoid contact with the water, Washburn said. The DEQ plans to coordinate cleanup and monitoring efforts with other state and local officials.

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