Manure Spills Recurring Problem On Cayuga Lake

Mar 13, 2017

The manure spill that contaminated parts of Cayuga Lake and Salmon Creek last month is no longer a hazard to humans.  Still, researchers say too many manure spills can lead to long term damage.  

Todd Walter, who directs the Water Resources Institute at Cornell University, says such manure spills are much too common.

Credit AP Photo/Ann Levin


“My first thought was really, not again, because Salmon Creek has had this sort of incident happen several times in my lifetime. I was kind of surprised that it happened again,” said Walter.

During an inspection on February 16th, liquid manure was found coming out of a drain, flowing into Salmon Creek, and ultimately into Cayuga Lake. The source was a manure storage lagoon at Sunnyside Farms in Cayuga County. Within a week, the Tompkins County Health Department lifted an advisory, warning residents to avoid direct contact with Salmon Creek and the Cayuga Lake inlet. When such spills occur, Walter says the manure can raise phosphorus levels in the fresh water.

“You put phosphorous into the lake, and it takes a long time for it to flush out,” said Walter

In freshwater lakes, Walter says phosphorus promotes photosynthesis. This can cause an algal bloom and a rapid release of toxins. And when the algae dies, it can rob oxygen from a lake, potentially killing off wildlife and making it a “dead zone.” Walter adds farmers work hard to prevent such manure spills and they are making a difference.

“I’ve seen farmers are really doing proactive things that are outside of the regulations to try and  mitigate this. Because they don’t want to be regulated, right? So they’d rather be proactive and so there are some very innovative things going on Tompkins County and Cayuga County and maybe beyond that,” said Walter.