A local diary farm was charged with violating state water quality standards after last week’s heavy rains allegedly washed manure off a field and into a tributary feeding the Owasco and Skaneateles lake watersheds.
According to the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the Owasco Lake Watershed Inspection Program, manure runoff was reported on Dec. 21 at a field belonging to Twin Birch Dairy south of Heifer Road in Skaneateles.
Owasco Lake Watershed Inspector Katie Jakaub said farm employees spread the manure in mid-November, but never tilled it into the ground. When last week’s rains hit, the manure was washed into a downhill drainage swale, which emptied into a nearby tributary feeding Dutch Hollow Brook.
Jakaub added that foam was spotted in the tributary, and is an indication there’s excessive nutrients in the water caused by the manure runoff.
The foam was reported by former watershed Inspector Jessica Reinhart.
“Any violation like this is obviously serious,” Jakaub said. “Dutch Hollow is the second largest tributary flowing into Owasco Lake. This was a smaller source tributary farther back, so that does help. You still have to treat this seriously though, this is our drinking water.”
The farm owner, Dirk Young, has cooperated and installed berms at both ends of the swale to limit the flow of water, Jakaub said.
Charlie Greene, president of the Owasco Lake Watershed Association, said that after talking with both watershed programs and the DEC, it appears the farm was following its nutrient management plan, which dictates how it can apply manure and fertilizer to a field.
In this case, the farm was allowed to spread manure on the field anytime throughout the year, Greene said, and that employees stopped spreading days prior to the rain as required to avoid any manure being washed into the watersheds.
Given that the farm abided by its plan and nutrient-rich water still entered the watershed, Greene said the incident shows there’s room for improvement.
“My feeling is, if a farmer is following their nutrient plan, and there is still nutrient-rich water runoff, it can be changed going forward,” Greene said. “This farmer wasn’t doing anything it wasn’t supposed to, so maybe going forward the DEC should make changes to that field’s plan.”
Officials from the Skaneateles Lake Watershed Agricultural Program said they are also working with the farm after water runoff also entered an adjacent ditch that flows into Skaneateles Lake’s watershed.
Young said any pollution in the swale did not come from his farm and that he is fighting the water quality charge, a violation-level offense.
Young added that the foam was not caused by manure pollution, and must have come from another source. He could not say what that source was.
“There is no manure in the water. You can have foam without manure,” Young said.
“My story is this is not a story. Do you expect me to filter every drop of water that comes off my fields?”
Jakaub said that based on the geography of the land, an initial review indicates there is no other source for the pollution to cause the foam since water runoff from the field drains directly into the downhill swale.
“When we have a heavy rain, especially like last week’s, it all washes downhill into that swale,” she said.” I’m with the DEC on this one. It appears to be from manure in his field.”
Local guidelines do require farmers to till manure into the ground within 24 hours if it’s spread within 75 feet of a watershed tributary, but nutrient management plans supersede those requirements, Jakaub said.
While tilling is considered a best practice in the watershed, management plans do not always require it.
Ray Lockwood, president of Cayuga County’s Farm Bureau and chairman of the county’s Soil and Water Conservation District, said manure loses its nitrogen, a key ingredient for fertilizer, if it’s not tilled shortly after it’s spread.
Manure is not always used for fertilizer, and can also be spread on a field as a means of getting rid of it.
Both Jakaub and Lockwood said that due to the mild fall and early winter many fields in Cayuga County were tillable until Wednesday’s cold weather arrived.
A DEC spokesman declined to comment on the specifics of the case as officials attempt to resolve the charge, but said this is not the first water quality violation reported at the farm.
A PVC pipe used in the farm’s anaerobic digester ruptured in August 2011, spilling approximately 7,000 gallons of manure into a tributary feeding Dutch Hollow Brook. That spill resulted in a fish kill, and the farm agreed to do community service to resolve the related water quality charges.
A second manure spill involving the same pipe occurred in July 2007, and caused the DEC to contain 25,000 to 30,000 gallons of manure before it reached Dutch Hollow Brook. The 2007 manure spill also impacted a tributary near Dutch Hollow Brook.
Young was fined and had to sign a consent order to participate in compliance requirements for the 2007 spill.
Staff writer Nate Robson can be reached at 282-2248 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at CitizenRobson.