Is Farm Run Off Polluting our Drinking Water?

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Feces are a natural part of every day life; in fact the ground we walk on and grow our food in is the by-product of one animal species or another. While manure is organic in nature and may even be very useful to humans, sometimes large amounts of manure can pose a significant hazard to our way of life.

Picture for a second, the typical feedlot or pig farm. Hundreds of animals are kept in a relatively small enclosure, and they spend their days eating and metabolising until they are ready to be butchered. This means that there are literally hundreds of pounds of manure created every day, and the large amounts can pose a serious threat to the health of the human population.

Whenever it rains, there is the possibility of manure run off, including several species of bacteria, to find its way into drinking supplies. Usually the combined natural filters of nature will combine with the artificial filters of man to eliminate the risk of health hazards, but in the case of large amounts from commercial farms there is a risk of certain harmful bacteria getting into drinking water supplies.

How do we keep our drinking water safe?

Although the public in general may be at risk, the people most likely to encounter problems will be those who live on or near the feedlot, and that usually includes the owners. That means that not only are there legislated measures for safe manure disposal, but the stakeholders have a personal interest as well. Here are some ways in which manure can be disposed of safely.

Composters. As we mentioned in the opening, manure makes for some of the very best growing material there is. The key is being able to get the manure to a point where the harmful elements are no longer present. This can be achieved through composting; both time devices and special metabolising chemicals are used to concentrate the composting products. Once treated, the manure is no longer harmful and in fact can be a lucrative by-product!

Lagoon treatment. Animal waste is placed in liquid form in pools of water, where aerobic bacteria treat the manure in a way similar to composting.

Technologies. Batch reactors, used for the treatment of human waste, also prove effective. In three separate steps, solids are removed from the effluent, phosphorous is diminished, and finally nitrogen gas is eliminated.

So as you can see, while farm runoff may pose a threat to our drinking water, there are treatments to effectively eliminate the danger. In places like Ontario, new government standards have also been put in place to avoid another Walkerton water tragedy.

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Author: Rob Parker
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