Massive Manure Spill At Ten Miles Long, Health Department Issues Alert

Posted at 6:57 PM, Feb 17, 2014
and last updated 2014-02-17 19:09:44-05

ALLEGAN COUNTY, Mich. (Feb. 17, 2014) — The liquid manure spill that came from the Schaendorf Dairy Farm in Hopkins is now estimated to be at least 10-miles-long through Weick’s Drain, Bear Creek and the Rabbit River.

Although the valve and pipe that was leaking the liquid manure has been filled with concrete, what was in the creeks and rivers surrounding Hopkins has been traveling downstream through Hopkins towards Hamilton and the Kalamazoo River.

A tip to the FOX 17 newsroom revealed that the liquid manure was draining into the Weick’s Drainage area Friday morning.

Upon further investigation, FOX 17 narrowed it down to the Schaendorf Farm and alerted the MDEQ about the location, so they could more aggressively investigate the problem.

The Department of Environmental Quality Water Analyst Bruce Washburn said the spill was at about five miles when they first officially discovered it coming from the farm Friday evening.

By Monday Washburn said it had traveled around 10 miles to the Shady Pines area.

Workers from the farm armed with a large tractor and a vacuum tank were out sucking the murky water from the creek about 1.5 miles downstream from the farm and the spill site early Monday.

“I already had the vacuum system,” said John Schaendorf, owner of Schaendorf Dairy Farm.  “We’re on top of it and we are on the right track.”

“They are working on sucking up manure laden water, trying to continue to mitigate any impacts that would be downstream,” said Washburn.

He said the DEQ is monitoring the cleanup.

Monday the Allegan County Health Department also issued an alert and advisory.

They are telling people to avoid contact with the water.

Specifically, they are saying to avoid fishing or recreating from Bear Creek and the Rabbit River downstream to where it enters the Kalamazoo at New Richmond.

“We have concerns about the manure because of high bacteria counts that could cause problems for people and cause potential illness,” said Bill Hinz, Environmental Health Director, Allegan County Health Department.

The waterborne illness could produce symptoms that include, vomiting, diarrhea, and skin, ear and eye infections.

Hinz has 40 years of experience with the Allegan County Health Department.

He doesn’t remember a manure spill this large in Allegan County waters which required a health alert.

“We are not putting an end time on the advisory currently until we have some ideas to how the dilution is going and what some of the results might be in the river,” said Hinz.

He also advised that people not let their pets play in the water or drink it.

The DEQ said the discharge was a violation of the Schaendorf farm’s permit as specified in the Clean Water Act.

However, the MDEQ isn’t sure whether it will result in a fine yet.

“We haven’t determined that,” said Washburn. “We’re still in the process. We’ve got it stopped. They are in the cleanup mode. We are still processing the data and we’ll discuss that when we get the chance to do that.”

Although the spill was officially located by the DEQ Friday, Schaendorf said the farm wasn’t able to stop the spill until around 10:30 am Saturday.

The pipe in question involved in the leak was plugged with concrete.

Schaendorf said, “We put concrete in it so the manure can’t get out.”

It’s still unknown how much sewage was released from the manure lagoon into the waters of Allegan County.

As for the vacuuming, the DEQ said it will continue as long as they see fit.

Once the manure water is sucked into the vacuum tank, Washburn said they will take the water back to the lagoon where it escaped to await warmer weather to get rid of it.

“They are putting it back into the storage lagoon which is the best thing that they could do at this point, putting it back in,” said Washburn. “So, they can spread it when the ground is ready.”

Schaendorf said Monday he had his crews stop the vacuuming activities in the creek in the evening due to inclement weather and safety concerns.