Clean Water

Monitoring CAFOs in Maumee Watershed

We use innovative satellite monitoring methodology to reveal the rapid, massive growth of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) in the Maumee River Valley. These CAFOs are under-regulated, produce more waste than the land can handle, and have had devastating effects on Lake Erie.

Industrial animal farms are booming across the Midwest these days, but these are not the small family farms that resonate in the American psyche. These massive-scale operations, also known as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), produce unsustainable levels of waste that can have devastating effects on local waterways. Lake Erie has been plagued by harmful algae in recent years caused by such pollution along the Maumee River watershed. These CAFOs are poorly regulated and poorly understood by both the public and policy-makers.

Chart with three lines showing over 200% growth in animal agricultural facilitiesTo shine a light on this hidden world of agricultural pollution, ELPC partnered with the Environmental Working Group (EWG) to develop a method of monitoring industrial livestock production using publicly-available satellite imagery. Researchers measured the visible infrastructure of facilities and used industry guidelines to estimate animal counts, manure volume, and nutrient output over time. The results reveal rapid, massive growth in animal feeding operations, and downstream communities have already seen the impact of their resultant nutrient pollution over the past few decades.

The data from this study represent the most complete accounting of confined livestock within the Maumee River basin. ELPC will continue to monitor these facilities and push for strong pollution-control standards and clean water for all.

In addition to the ELPC & EWG study above, you’ll find three factsheets that summarize key points and a 2022 report analyzing phosphorus concentrations in the Maumee River basin.

Map showing significant waste from animal facilities in the Maumee river watershed

Related Projects

View All
Clean Water

Monitoring EPA Enforcement in the Midwest

Clean Water

Protecting the Great Lakes

Clean Water

Cleaning Up Lake Erie

Clean Water

Reducing Agricultural Run-off Pollution to Stop Toxic Algae