FOX 17 Exposes Massive Manure Spill in Allegan County Waters

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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.

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  • Marv

    Let's see, Farm spill that might get through a mutipule series of streams that could possibly make it to Lake Michigan makes a lead news spot on Fox News 17. However several times this coming summer City of GR will dump Millions of gallons of raw sewage into the Grand River that will without a doubt flow directly Into the Big Lake. All we will see from them will be a ticker tape warning on the bottom of our TV telling us not to swim for a few days. I am sure Mr Shaendorf will fix the problem and likely we won't hear from him again. Bet we cannot sy the same about City of GR.

    • fairplayer

      Its not a farm Its an industrial feedlot,Heavy industry.If a manufacturing plant anywhere did the same thing the State would shut them down ASAP. If your going to be heavy industry you need to follow the same rules as everyone else.Not have special rules that only apply to "farmers"

      • Jay

        Obviously you are unaware of the facts. This dairy like 97% of all US farms is a family owned business. Has been in the same family since its start. I understand that it does not fit the postcard type farm that the many seem to think farms should be. However, this family farm must comply with a vast pile of regulations, many that "industry" does not. They have to work very closely with the DEQ and to date have a great track record. And to my point, where is the outcry when GR dumps millions of gal into the grand every time we get 2 inches of rain in 12 hours. Could it be that fixing that would hit all the city folks in the wallet? Much easier to gang up on one farmer I'm guessing

        • fairplayer

          "Obviously you are unaware of the facts" Your comment is showing your ignorance Jay.The Dept of Agriculture defines any dairy farm with more than 700 cows a Large CAFO,200 to 699 a medium CAFO. (Concentrated Animal Feedlot Operation) Also known as an industrial feed lot.
          What does it being family owned have to do with any thing. Are you suggesting different laws for family owned business vs other business? And your other ignorant uninformed comment"this family farm must comply with a vast pile of regulations, many that "industry" does not" You sir are full of shit,name even one !
          The right to farm act made sure farms do not have to follow the same rules and regulations that the rest of the residents of the State do.

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