Driving south on Route 81 in Upstate New York a couple weeks ago, I drove past a dairy 'farmer' spraying liquid manure on his fields from a big sprayer-tanker. A pulsing arc of brown slurry streamed 50ft high and he left a big plume of fine brown sh!t-mist behind the tank.
I put 'farmer' in single quotes because the image most of us have of an Upstate dairy farmer has changed. Where once a farmer got up at 4:00 to milk a 40-cow herd, that 'farmer' now manages a Concentrated Animal Feed Operation that tends to 400 cows. All those cows need a lot of feed to make milk, and they generate a sh!t-ton more manure than the 40-cow herd he had twenty years ago.
The modern CAFO farmer stores all that manure as a slurry, and sprays it on his fields with a 'nutrient management tanker' to fertilize all the genetically-modified corn he raises to make the silage he needs to feed his 400-cow operation.
When he sprays his frozen fields in January, some times the sh!t runs off immediately. But usually those layers stay frozen and build up until spring, when the snow melts the sh!t slides off into the West Branch which connects to the Tioughnioga that flows into the Chenango and soon merges with the Susquehanna River. Yes, the same Susquehanna that drains into the Chesapeake.
We know that to keep his operation healthy and pumping out metric sh!t-tons of milk, the modern CAFO 'farmer' will amend the feed with antibiotics and other additives to stimulate production. Those amendments go in one end of the milk-maker, and flow out the other and are washed out of the big barns into the slurry tank (round dark circle, next to the barns)...then eventually sprayed on the field to grow corn.
If the slurry came out of a pipe and dropped straight into a stream, the NY DEC and US EPA and USDA, et al, would make them stop - because if it comes out of a pipe, it's a point source. And point-source pollutants are still illegal. But because the slurry is spread on a field and it's an agricultural operation, all that sh!t flowing into the stream is exempt from legal restriction. (Hey, it's just a farmer, spreading manure like farmers have done since farmers started farming, right? Wrong.)
Add up all the CAFO dairy farms cranking out tons of milk for cheese and yogurt and latex paint and whatever else made from milk in the Susquehanna drainage and pretty soon a lot of sh!t will end up in the Chesapeake. And what of all the nano-quantities of growth hormones and antibiotics and pesticides and the huge plume of nutrients and parking lot runoff that's pumping over the Conowingo every time it rains anywhere upstream?
Do we think this mess might have something to do with the dead zones in the Bay? Anything to do with the plummeting reproduction of smallmouth bass in the Susquehanna upstream of the Bay?
And what about the weakfish and striped bass and flounder and croaker and soft-shell steamer clams that are either almost gone or falling off the statistical cliff of survival in the Upper Bay areas? Is the Susquehanna killing our Bay?
None of it will improve until we capture the sh!t at the source and keep it out of the Bay. And what are the chances we're going to get this done before the Chesapeake eutrophies and goes through a regime shift so the algae and Vibrio runs rampant and the only fish left are catfish, snakeheads, and a few gasping perch?
Enjoy that greek yogurt.