After decades of effort, the voluntary, collaborative approach to restoring the health and vitality of the Chesapeake Bay— the largest estuary in the United States—has not worked and, in fact, is failing. A diverse group of 57 senior scientists and policymakers have joined forces to save the Bay. This is our plan.

Manure to Hit the Fan on Maryland SB 594

(Posted by Sen. Gerald Winegrad.)

Everyone knows that human excrement must be sanitarily and environmentally treated before discharge into our waterways or when taken from septic tanks. What most people don’t know is that millions of tons of farm animal excrement are put into the environment totally raw and untreated. Much of the polluting nutrients and bacteria wind up in the Chesapeake Bay’s creeks and streams or in groundwater destroying water quality.

When 13 million people in the Bay watershed flush their toilets, the wastewater flows through miles of pipes and many pumping stations to the nearest treatment plant. These plants must meet stringent federal and state standards for destroying disease-causing organisms and for removing environmentally harmful chemicals and nutrients. The plants must keep comprehensive records and are repeatedly inspected for Clean Water Act compliance. The public has full access to all such records and can even sue should any plant violate its strict permit limits.

Costly upgrades have been required to better treat human waste at such plants. For example, the Maryland Flush Tax when expanded this year will cumulatively have raised $1.4 billion to upgrade the 69 largest sewage treatment plants to state-of-the-art standards to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus flows to the Bay. This will cover 95 percent of the wastewater flows in Maryland. If there is any singular success in Bay restoration over the last 28 years since the first Bay Agreement was signed, it is in the significant reductions of nutrients from these plants, some from the phosphate detergent bans but most from costly upgrades to remove Bay-choking nutrients.

The other 4.2 million people in the bay region are on septic tanks which Maryland has been regulating for many years and, more recently, requiring better systems to remove nitrogen. The Governor is trying again this year to reduce septic tanks use.

But when it comes to raw, untreated farm animal excrement (an estimated 44 million tons of it each year), most all of it stays on or is centrally collected and applied onto farm fields and there is zero public accountability and little inspection done.

Data from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Studies on the Eastern Shore show that the nitrogen in the chicken manure produced annually on the Delmarva Peninsula has the equivalent nitrogen content of 8 million people. There are about 1.3 million people on the Delmarva Peninsula and 5.8 million people in all of Maryland. How this raw excrement is managed profoundly affects the Chesapeake and its fish, crabs, and oysters, and affects the health of people who come in contact with Bay water. Does anyone remember the outbreak of disease believed to be pfiesteria in 1997?

The disposal of raw waste from hundreds of millions of chickens raised on the shore plus the manure from cows, pigs, cattle, and other farm animals presents a formidable obstacle to Bay recovery. One report indicates that two-thirds of the farm land on the Shore is already saturated with phosphorus meaning there should be no manure whatsoever, or any fertilizer with phosphorus, put on them. But the practice continues as does winter application of manure when much of the manure will runoff into nearby streams.

Pressed by the agricultural community, the Maryland Department of Environment adopted stringent regulations for the land disposal of well-treated human sludge from sewage treatment plants. But neither MDE nor the Department of Agriculture has adopted parallel regulations for equally stringent regulation of raw animal manure.

Consider that 43 percent of the nitrogen and 56 percent of the phosphorus Bay-wide comes from agricultural sources, and roughly half of that is from animal manure. The amount of nitrogen from all sewage treatment plants is 20 percent and 19 percent for phosphorus. Add another 3 percent of the nitrogen from septic tanks and you can see that untreated, poorly regulated disposal of animal manure exceeds the nutrient pollution loads from the 17.2 million inhabitants of the Bay watershed!

Because state agencies have failed to act to properly regulate animal manure, Senators Pinsky and Frosh have introduced SB 594. See our letter to Governor O’Malley urging action on this issue. The bill generally parallels the MDE regulations for treated human wastewater sludge/biosolids and applies some of the key requirements to untreated raw animal manure when it is applied to farm land. Our Senior Scientists and Policymakers for the Bay group is joining with state environmental leaders in urging passage of this legislation.

SB 594 would require much better management of the millions of tons of animal manure placed on farm fields by:

  • effectively dealing with winter application of all manure/biosolids on ag land by prohibiting such applications from Nov 1-March 1 unless they were injected into the soil;
  • requiring that all manure/biosolids applied the rest of the year be injected or otherwise incorporated into the soil within 24 hours of application;
  • on or after July 1, 2017, prohibiting the application of all fertilizer to agricultural land that already has sufficient phosphorus); and
  • on or after July 1, 2020, prohibiting the application of manure/biosolids to agricultural land between September 10 and November 15, inclusive, even if there is a lack of storage capacity for animal manure as biosolids.

This bill conforms with our scientists and policymakers’ conclusions that all land application of animal manure should be treated the same as treated human sludge/biosolids under the MDE sludge regulations.

The bill will be heard on Tuesday, February 21, 1:00 p.m., in the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee, (2 West Miller Senate Building, 11 Bladen Street, Annapolis). It deserves all readers support.

We wouldn’t let a town of 25,000 people dump human manure untreated on open lands; why should we allow the dumping of the equivalent amount of manure from 150,000 chickens without meaningful regulation?

Sorry, comments are closed for this post.