A new investigation by two environmental groups cites unpermitted livestock farms as contributors to the algae problem in Lake Erie. The Environmental Working Group and Environmental Law & Policy Center collected and studied aerial photos of the Maumee River watershed.
By studying a state database of permitted farms, researchers determined the number of unpermitted facilities they describe as CAFOs or concentrated animal feeding operations also known as factory farms. They say unpermitted farms have jumped more than 40% since 2005 and are producing 70% of the phosphorus generated in the area, which is a contributor to algal blooms in the water.
Ohio Farm Bureau Spokesman Joe Cornely disputes the findings and the use of the term unregulated.
“No farm in Ohio is allowed to pollute the waters of the state regardless of size, location or type of livestock they raise. This seems to suggest that only a certain level of agriculture is regulated in Ohio. That is completely false.”
Cornely also says collecting livestock data by taking pictures from the sky is not an accurate method in determining the amount or types of animals in the barns.
But senior research analyst Lucas Stephens, with the Environmental Policy and Law Center, disagreed.
"This technique of telling what type of animal is in these barns is effective because these barns are so specialized now," Stephens said. "Like a poultry versus a swine barn versus a dairy barn. They’re very specialized and they’re leased out to these large agriculatural business firms that build these things."
The report finds that the amount of manure produced and applied annually to farmland in the watershed increased by 29% since 2005.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to include more thorough information about the research methods utilized in the study as well as input from a senior research analyst at the ELPC.