The Chesapeake’s Poop Problem

NOTE: This is a guest post from Karen Steuer, director of the Reforming Industrial Animal Agriculture campaign at the Pew Environment Group.

What do 2,700 plant species, 525 species of fin and shell-fish and more than 17 million people have in common? They are all residents of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The bay provides economic benefits of more than $33 billion a year from recreational and commercial activities, including the harvest of the well-known blue crab. Its vast, 64,000-square-mile watershed stretches from upstate New York to southern Virginia and east to the Delmarva Peninsula.

Unfortunately, the waters of the world’s third-largest estuary have become contaminated and as a result, harvests of striped bass, oysters and blue crabs have significantly declined and habitats important to these species have suffered. Among the pollution culprits are the nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus, which, in excess, can trigger massive algal blooms that lead to declines in the bay’s life-giving dissolved oxygen.

The sources of those nutrient pollutants are various, but significant among them is animal agriculture, particularly from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).

About 42 percent of the Chesapeake region’s 87,000 farms are primarily livestock operations, while 7 percent produce a mixture of crops and animals. Nutrient yields are particularly high from the southern Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, southeastern Pennsylvania and the lower Delmarva Peninsula, where animal agriculture is heavily concentrated. Generating 44 million tons of manure each year, the watershed’s livestock contributes about half of the total nutrient load from all agricultural sources.

Most of the manure is used to fertilize cropland. Applied at the right time and rate, it can be highly beneficial for growing plants. But as land is developed for nonagricultural uses, less is available for efficient and responsible disposal. In fact, most of the waste generated in the bay region is used to fertilize crops on less than 10 percent of the watershed’s agricultural lands. This increases the likelihood of over-application and thus the likelihood of environmental and human health threats.

Nutrients can easily be carried by rainwater or snowmelt runoff, entering local streams and waterways that ultimately empty into the Chesapeake Bay. The pollutants, particularly nitrogen compounds, are also conveyed to the bay via the groundwater that many of us use for drinking. In addition, ammonia gas from manure piles and fertilized fields rises into the air and eventually falls onto the surface of the bay’s waters and tributaries.

These, however, aren’t the only animal agriculture-generated pollutants that affect the bay. Manure from feeding operations often contains a foul mixture of pathogens, antibiotics, cleaning fluids, heavy metals and pesticides. These form additional threats to human health and wildlife.

There’s no question that responsible manure management is critical to maintaining a healthy bay. Unfortunately, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), much of the manure remains unregulated. Some comes from farm operations that fall below EPA thresholds for what legally constitutes a CAFO, or escapes regulation when it leaves the CAFO to be used as fertilizer on crops.

As CAFO operations have become more industrialized, regulations have not kept pace. You can help. The Chesapeake is not the only watershed affected by CAFO pollution—many states have CAFOs. Please take a moment to urge President Obama to move forward with a strong rule to protect waterways across the country.


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Duane B.
.5 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

TERRANCE N6 years ago

The same animals we horribly cage in cramp quarters, beat, torture, and then burn, boil, and fry to eat eventually end up giving us high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer,arthritis and eventually we live a painful life and die a painful death.

How can we expect to mistreat one of natures species and not expect a reciprocal pain. Living in harmony is something that those who control and rule is not concerned about. It's profit and greed at all cost. Those who complain, speak out, rebel, and peacefully demonstrate are slandered, jailed, brutalized, marginalized, and eventually killed.

I believe it will take nature in the form of climate change, global warmig, and environmental havoc to stop this onslaught against nature, humanity, and every species on earth.

Sunwyn R.
Sunwyn R.6 years ago

Factory farms are an abomination. They are surrounded by open cesspools. These not only emit toxic gases and nauseating stenches, the bacteria in them generate spores which can travel for miles downwind and infect humans with horrible diseases just be breathing them in. All factory farms should be outlawed and the animals humanely slaughtered. Then the owners should be required to return the land to the natural condition, which includes hauling off and disposing of all the concentrated feces and urine.

Anita Wisch
Anita Wisch6 years ago

Very informative, and thought provoking......

Mark Donner
Mark Donner6 years ago

Just the unnatural human act of raising animals for cruel slaughter, especially on this massive a scale, is one of the most unnatural, criminal and immoral operations occuring on this planet, if not the universe.

rift v.
rift v6 years ago

What to do with millions of tons of toxic manure??

Go Vegan!

Martha Eberle
Martha Eberle6 years ago

I was born in Annapolis, and lived on the Chesapeake Bay while visiting my Oma and Opa. It is an absolutely beautiful place, the land, the water, the Blue crabs. I haven't kept up with these developments, and I do hope they regulate these agricultural run-offs, because the Bay is a living thing.

Leanne B.
Leanne B6 years ago

Thanks for the information.

Anna M.
Anna M6 years ago

Humankind has not woven the web of life.
We are but one thread within it.
Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.
All things are bound together.
All things connect.
Chief Seattle, 1854

When all the trees have been cut down,
When all the animals have been hunted,
When all the waters are polluted,
When all the air is unsafe to breathe,
Only then will you discover
You cannot eat money.
Cree Prophecy

Hartson Doak
Hartson Doak6 years ago

industrial animal farming needs to be mandated to recycle all the waste from their operations. They need to use the waste as fuel sources for making electricity. Then the remaining waste can be composted with the soil to improve the soils that have been destroyed by this type of agriculture.