The Maumee river watershed stitches together three states in the heart of the Midwest: northeast Indiana, southeast Michigan, and northwest Ohio. Together, its connected tributaries form the largest watershed in the Great Lakes basin. The Maumee is a vital natural resource for these communities. The annual Walleye Run attracts anglers from across the region each April, one of the largest river fish migrations east of the Mississippi.
But lately, the Maumee has been treated as a dumping ground for the rapidly growing industrial agricultural sector. Large factory farms like concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) create more waste than the land can handle. Excessive fertilizer and manure contribute nitrogen and phosphorous pollution into the Maumee waterways that flow to western Lake Erie. These pollutants feed harmful algae blooms that cause a host of problems: starving ecosystems of oxygen, inhibiting recreational industries, and choking out drinking water intakes. During one particularly toxic bloom in 2014, the city of Toledo had to shut down their water system to 500,000 people for 72 hours and call in the National Guard to bring safe water. This problem is exacerbated by heavier rains and warmer waters amid a warming climate, and scientists anticipate these conditions to continue into the future.
What is ELPC Doing?
- Pushing for an effective pollution-reduction plan in Ohio. So far, most politicians have responded to this crisis by trying to encourage agriculture to clean up their act, but voluntary programs have proven insufficient. In the summer of 2017, ELPC sued the U.S. EPA for failing to enforce the Clean Water Act and protect Lake Erie communities. A federal judge agreed and Ohio declared Lake Erie “impaired” in 2018. This designation should have prompted the state to create a meaningful plan to reduce pollution throughout the Maumee watershed, but they have yet to do so. ELPC filed a new, related lawsuit in 2019 with co-plaintiff Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie, asking the court to oversee a meaningful plan for reducing runoff, including monitoring and enforcement.
- Fighting to protect Indiana’s “impaired” waterways. Several rivers in northeast Indiana flow into the Maumee watershed basin around Fort Wayne, IN. In a report to federal EPA in August 2019, Indiana’s Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) identified these waterways as “impaired” in August 2018 in a report to the EPA that was supposed to receive approval within 30 days. EPA has yet to respond, leaving Indiana waterways in limbo. In March 2019, ELPC joined Alliance for the Great Lakes and the Hoosier Environmental council in filing a 60-day notice for a potential lawsuit to make EPA do their job, so Indiana can get to work cleaning up these waterways.
- Monitoring industrial agriculture throughout the watershed. Large Scale animal feeding operations (CAFOs) have boomed across the Maumee watershed, producing more waste than the land can handle and affecting communities far downstream. Unfortunately, these sites are poorly understood by both the public and policy-makers. So ELPC partnered with the Environmental Working Group (EWG) to develop a method of monitoring industrial livestock production using publicly-available satellite imagery. By measuring the visible infrastructure and using industry guidelines, researchers were able to estimate animal counts, manure volume, and nutrient output over time. The results reveal rapid, massive growth in animal feeding operations, providing the most complete accounting of confined livestock in the watershed. ELPC will continue to monitor these facilities and push for strong pollution-control standards and clean water for all.
Explosion of Unregulated Factory Farms in Maumee Watershed Fuels Lake Erie’s Toxic Blooms—ELPC & Environmental Working Group
Animal Feeding Operations (AFO) and Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO)—USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
Manure from Unregulated Factory Farms Fuels Lake Erie’s Toxic Algae Blooms ELPC Press Release