Treating livestock waste at the source, while it is still concentrated and before it has a chance to contaminate downstream ecosystems, can save U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars in annual costs to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, Great Lakes and Mississippi River Basin, and in the many smaller watersheds where excess nutrients are an issue.
Our traditional clean water strategy that focuses spending on downstream ‘point sources’ is no longer up to the task of maintaining water quality: up or downstream. A new strategy that addresses all of the pollution sources in the watershed will greatly improve water quality and ecosystem health throughout the watershed, accelerate cleanup, and reduce costs.
The value of any watershed is difficult to determine, especially large, complex and diverse systems like the Chesapeake Bay. “Ecosystem services” is a recent economics concept used in measuring benefits from the environment, based on four categories:
- Provisioning Services describe the material or energy outputs from ecosystems including food, water and raw materials for construction, fuels, and medicines.
- Regulating Services provide local climate and air quality benefits, carbon sequestration, storm protection, water treatment and soil conditioning.
- Habitat (Supporting) Services provide everything that plants and wildlife need to survive and maintain genetic diversity.
- Cultural Services include recreation and physical/mental health, tourism, and aesthetics – inspiration for culture, art and design.
A 2014 study by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, The Economic Benefits of Cleaning Up the Chesapeake Bay, estimated the value of the land and waters of the Bay region, prior to implementation of the 2010 TMDL, at $107.2 billion annually. Further, the study estimated that a cleaned up Bay would be valued at $129.7 billion annually. Comparable or larger numbers could be expected for the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Basin, although those studies have not been done.
The Bay’s declining grass beds are a bellwether of its health and provide critical habitat for the iconic blue crab and several species of fish. Improved water quality will allow the beds to return to historic levels.
Treating livestock waste at its source promotes environmental health throughout the watershed and generates a wide range of benefits to local ecosystems and communities that cannot be achieved through more difficult and dilute downstream treatment.
Reducing nutrient runoff to surface and ground water can avoid future costs to treat drinking water. High nitrate levels in drinking water can lead to “blue baby” syndrome that in infants reduces the blood’s capacity to carry oxygen. Pregnant women are also at risk from elevated nitrates and some health studies suggest that higher levels can lead to formation of cancer-causing substances in adults.
Frequent waste collection followed by advanced treatment dramatically reduces ammonia, greenhouse gases and other air emissions. Livestock waste is one of the largest (if not THE largest) sources of ammonia in the U.S. and the world. Ammonia contributes to the formation of PM2.5, fine inhalable particulate air pollution that poses significant health risks for heart and lung disease, especially in the young and elderly. Ammonia also adds to both groundwater contamination, as well as surface runoff, through atmospheric deposition of nitrogen that is then picked up in stormwater runoff.
Direct treatment can largely eliminate pathogens in the waste stream. Outbreaks of food-borne illness, some fatal, are often traced back to contamination from using raw waste to fertilize crops. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria due to overuse in livestock production is a widely and hotly-debated issue. Several recent studies have demonstrated an increased incidence of MRSA and other antibiotic-resistant bacteria in humans that live near fields that have been treated with both raw swine and dairy manure. Increased hormone levels that interfere with fish reproduction have been found in several Pennsylvania rivers; higher hormone levels and their impacts have been linked to runoff from livestock waste.
Treating livestock waste at its source isn’t just common sense – it makes economic sense:
- Substantially reduced clean water compliance costs to the tax payer
- Avoidance of future costs to pretreat drinking water due to nitrate contamination
- Improved water quality and ecosystem health throughout the watershed
- Increased economic activity and improved quality of life in “upstream” communities
US EPA calls excess nutrients the greatest water quality problem in the U.S. today. Dead Zones, toxic algal blooms, and contaminated wells and aquifers occur throughout the U.S. and the world with more frequency and scale… read more
Bion has developed and proven its technology platform that provides comprehensive environmental treatment of livestock waste and recovers valuable nutrients, energy and clean water from the waste stream… read more
Local and Downstream Benefits
Treating livestock waste at its source creates dramatic savings in downstream compliance costs and produces local economic and environmental benefits that cannot be achieved through downstream treatment options… read more
New Clean Water Strategy
Escalating clean water costs and declining overall water quality indicate current policies must change. A new strategy based on transparency, accountability and cost-effectiveness has to be implemented… read more