FOX 17 Exposes Massive Manure Spill in Allegan County Waters

Posted at 11:24 PM, Feb 15, 2014
and last updated 2014-02-16 00:13:54-05

ALLEGAN COUNTY, Mich. — (February 15, 2014) A mishap at an Allegan County dairy farm is causing environmental concern.

A mechanical system reportedly malfunctioned at the Schaendorf Dairy Farm, sending a five-mile long liquid manure spill into the ecosystem according to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

The water that could be seen flowing into the creek in the Weick Drainage area near Hopkins Friday and Saturday was dark brown, smelly and foamy.

It’s filled with what the MDEQ confirms is liquid manure.

“It appeared to be pretty much straight manure in the creek,” said Bruce Washburn, an Environmental Quality Analyst with the MDEQ as he described one section of the spill.

We got a closer look at the sludge Friday when a tip first came into FOX 17.

Not only could you smell the manure in the air, but the water smelled as well.

The DEQ started investigating more intensely after we started asking questions and uncovered that the manure might be coming from the Schaendorf Dairy Farm.

Washburn said the farm workers were unaware how long the manure may have been draining into the creek.

“I was out there at 4:30 yesterday (Friday) to assess the creek and at that point I was fairly sure something was wrong,” said Washburn.

The spill started at the Schaendorf Dairy Farm, and ran for about five miles, stretching into Bear Creek and eventually heading Northeast behind the city of Hopkins and the school and into the Rabbit River.

“We haven`t assessed how far it`s gone downstream, but it has certainly moved through the town of Hopkins and is moving downstream on the Rabbit River,” said Washburn.

The DEQ asked Schaendorf farms if they were spreading manure to cause some sort of run-off when they first heard of a problem.

A farm representative told the DEQ they were not, but Washburn still felt something wasn’t right and checked the creeks nearby.

Then he said he went to the farm personally to find the problem.

“I called the farm and they met me and we went together to find it,” said Washburn.

Farm workers helped to determine that a valve had frozen and malfunctioned, affecting their liquid manure storage area.

However, after they discovered the problem Friday, Washburn said that the farm wasn’t able to block the flow from the pipe and valve until what appeared to be more than 12 hours later, at 10:30 Saturday morning due to issues with the system.

Managers at Schaendorf Farms were not available for comment Saturday.

We left a phone message with the owner, John Schaendorf as well as a written note for him with an employee.

One worker said he was out of town at the time of the spill and likely hadn’t returned as of Saturday evening.

According to the DEQ, one of the big concerns with the spill now is a potential fish kill from a lack of oxygen in the water.

It’s a problem associated with e-coli and the growth of bacteria.

There are also concerns for public health.

The DEQ says that they don’t believe that there is a concern at this time but Washburn said the Allegan County Health Department has been alerted and they will make that determination.

When asked if it was a biohazard, Washburn said, “Potentially, given the temperatures that we have outside and the temperature of the water. The water is just at freezing. Biological activity is fairly limited. We don`t have analysis on what the e-coli is. But, if this was in the summer when people would be in the stream or recreating, it would probably raise to a higher level of concern.”

He said if you touched the contaminated water, you could potentially get sick although he noted that risk is there with any water source.

“If you can avoid it you should avoid it,” said Washburn. “But again, it’s not neccesarliy different than what’s in the water just at a higher concentration,” he said.

“As far as we are aware of there is not a drinking water threat. There are no drinking water sources out of these rivers,” said Washburn. “The local health department has been notified of the situation but they will make the call on a potential health threat.”

The DEQ says that liquid manure spill is on the move and the city of Hamilton is in it`s path next.

The Rabbit River eventually dumps into the Kalamazoo River and then into Lake Michigan although Washburn said it’s still too early to tell if the spill will make it to the big lake because there are a number of wetlands along the way.