Dry Litter Poultry Operations and Water Quality
- In Georgia, millions of birds are raised in “poultry houses” owned (and mortgaged) by small farmers who are solely responsible for disposing of the millions of tons of waste generated each year. Georgia produces as many as 1 billion broilers which are raised in over 6,700 chicken houses located across the state – these broilers produce over 1 million tons of litter annually. [i] According to Congressional estimates, one poultry house can hold 25,000 birds and can produce 225  tons of manure annually.[ii]
- Poultry litter is rich in nitrogen and phosphorous that, in excess quantities can pollute water and air. Based on Congressional information, the litter produced each year from just one 22,000 bird broiler house contains as much phosphorous as does the sewage from a community of 6000 people; [iii] based on this information, Georgia’s 6,700 poultry houses produce the amount of phosphorous as the sewage generated by 40,000 million people – over five times the population of Georgia. Georgia’s broilers also produce 60 million pounds (30,000 tons) of nitrogen per year. Poultry litter contains potassium, calcium, copper, arsenic, lead, and smaller amounts of cadmium, mercury, selenium, xanthophylls, antibiotics, anitprotozoals, antioxidants, mold inhibitors, probiotics, polychlorinated phenols, tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin, and hormones. [iv]
- Poultry litter leachate has been shown to be more toxic than other types of animal manure. [v] Losses due to runoff can be expected to be similar to losses from other types of manure; poultry runoff, however, has received less attention. [vi] When nitrogen and phosphorus get in the wrong place at high concentrations, they stimulate algal growth which leads to "low dissolved oxygen levels" (i.e., robs the water of oxygen). [vii] Low dissolved oxygen can kill fish and other aquatic life. Nitrates can also contaminate drinking wells; high levels of nitrates are dangerous to humans, especially pregnant women and babies, and are associated with a number of public health concerns such as abortions and "blue baby syndrome" (a disease affecting the blood's ability to absorb oxygen). Build-up of excess nutrients has also been associated with a troublesome public health crisis: Pfiesteria piscicida, (pronounced 'fis-teer-ia'), the so-called "cell from hell", which has been linked to human health problems, including skin rashes and lesions, memory loss, cognitive dysfunction and other problems in fishermen and others who come into contact with water where pfiesteria is active.
- The poultry industry can also impact water conservation efforts; the industry uses an average of 5.5 gallons of water per day for every bird processed. [viii] Also of concern are the massive numbers of dead birds that result from poultry production. Farmers lose an estimated 1,000 birds for every 20,000 birds raised. [ix] Based on these estimates, Georgia produces about 50,000,000 dead birds per year. [x]
Documented Water Quality Impacts
- The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) conducted a study of the Lower Little Tallapoosa River and found that of the 25 million broilers raised in the watershed annually, most did not have adequate facilities for disposing of litter and dead birds. As a result, approximately 10% percent of the nitrogen (114 tons) and 7 % of the phosphorous (29 tons) generated by these facilities made its way into streams and wetlands in the watershed. The report recommended proper management of the poultry litter and mortalities. [xi]
- The USDA conducted a study of the Five Points Area Watershed and found that approximately 9,150 tons of waste from poultry is generated in that watershed annually. The study found that none of the poultry operations in the watershed had a waste management system and that approximately one third of all of the nitrogen (31.1 tons) and phosphorous (10.1 tons) from those facilities found its way into watershed streams. [xii]
- According to the U.S. Geological Survey (“USGS”), in 1990, animal manure generated in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin (“ACF Basin”) contained about 120,000 tons of nitrogen and 28,000 tons of phosphorus; poultry accounted for 89% of the nutrient input from manure in the Basin... [xiii] USGS also found that nutrient run-off from poultry operations has resulted in high nitrate levels and recommended that “more extensive control” of runoff from poultry operations was needed “to significantly reduce eutrophication . . . in the ACF River Basin.” [xiv]
According to EPA, in addition to many reports of runoff, the following problems have been attributed to poultry operations:
- 9,002 fish killed in Beaverdam Creek, Iowa;
- 10,000 fish killed in Deep Run, Maryland;
- Fish kill from a 75,000 bird poultry farm in Duplin, North Carolina;
- Nitrate levels greater than 10 mg/L in 32% of wells, Sussex County, Delaware;
- Nitrate levels greater than 10 mg/L in one-third of wells, Florida (county unknown);
- 30,000 fish killed and pfisteria piscicida outbreak, Chesapeake Bay (1997);
- Extensive fish kill, Chesapeake Bay (1995);
- 20,000-30,000 fish killed, pfisteria piscicida outbreak, and 13 humans affected, Pokomoke River, Maryland;
- Fish kill and pfisteria piscicida outbreak, Kings Creek, Maryland;
- High fecal coliform levels threatening water supply, Double Pipe Creek, Maryland;
- Eutrophication, fecal coliform contamination and shellfish areas closed, Nansemond-Chuckatuck
- Watershed, Virginia;  and Excessive algal growth in Lake Eucha with impacts on drinking water taste and odor, Tulsa, Oklahoma. [xv]
The Chesapeake Bay
- The Chesapeake Bay region has almost 6,000 houses turning out more than 750,000 tons of manure per year. Estimates from EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program identify poultry manure as the largest source of excess nitrogen and phosphorous in the region. [xvi] Studies have found the following problems in the Chesapeake Bay region:
- The Pocomoke River was closed as a health hazard because of an outbreak of pfisteria two years ago. [xvii] Also, USGS found trace amounts of arsenic in the Pocomoke. Arsenic is added to chicken feed to kill parasites and promote growth. [xviii]
- Studies in Sussex County, Delaware suggested that poultry operations were responsible for nitrate contamination of groundwater; follow up studies found that 41 of 95 wells have nitrate levels in excess of EPA’s 10 ppm standards with the highest concentrations exceeding 33 ppm. High nitrate concentrations were concentrated around chicken coop complexes and houses; lower levels were observed in areas where chicken and other farming operations were absent. [xix]
- USGS conducted a study of nitrate contamination in Maryland and found that more than 15% of the randomly tested wells had nitrate levels that exceed EPA’s drinking water standard of 10 mg/L N, and that wells located near chicken houses contained the highest median nitrate concentrations. [xx]
Poultry problems in one of Georgia's Regions (updated June 2000)
Fish Kills in Region 2 (Northeast Georgia)
- Woody’s Lake (1979): Investigators reported fishkill caused by low oxygen levels as a result of high levels of nutrient matter where some was “obviously coming from the nearby chicken houses, hog lot and pastures.” The investigation recommended that “attempts should be made to stop as much runoff as possible from surrounding agricultural operations from entering the lake.”
- Bear Creek (1980): Investigators reported a fish kill caused by a chicken farm.
- Bear Creek (1982): Investigators reported a fish kill caused by manure runoff from chicken houses. On the first day of the investigation, DNR found that the stream was “extremely turbid” and a “noxious odor was detected.” Investigators believed that the source of the pollution was a pipe that carried waste from three chicken houses via a ditch. Further investigation found a “distinct odor of chicken waste” and the discovery of a “large volume of chicken waste at one end of the chicken houses.” Investigators “suggested that [the owner] correct the problem as soon as possible.”
- Crooked Creek (1982): Fish kill investigation found that broiler poultry farmer had been washing manure from his poultry houses into a settling pond that was located in a natural waterway. Heavy runoff breached the dam and “sewerage” entered the creek via a small stream. DNR stated that “EPD should send someone to talk with” the farmer who appeared “quite willing to do the right thing.” (However, a fish kill occurred the following year from the same operation.)
- Brasstown Creek (1982): Investigation of the Georgia portion of a fish kill that “extended well into North Carolina” found “distinct odor of manure in the air” and sediment that “looked and smelled just like similar ones observed during investigations of previous fish kills caused by chicken manure.” Investigators also found “mixed with the manure . . . fragments of feathers, eggshells, maggots, poultry carcasses, and a few whole eggs.” Further investigation found an area where a large amount of manure (several truckloads) had been dumped above a catch basin that was nearly full of manure. The valley between the pond and the dumping site was “strewn with a large amount of manure, which appeared much like a lava flow. About one or two feet of fresh dirt had recently been added to the dam. There was no evidence that manure had flowed over this fresh dirt, but the valley immediately below the dam was strewn with manure, eggs, eggshells, and maggots. It was apparent that a large volume of manure had flowed over the dam and down the valley toward the creek very recently. . . . In addition to the massive volume of manure in the valley above the pond, a ditch from the lower end of the chicken house contained semi-liquid manure still flowing into the valley above the pond.” Investigators did not find evidence of a fishkill in Crooked Creek (downstream of Brasstown Creek) “most likely because there was not a significant fish population . . . following a previous fish kill in May of 1982.”
- Woody’s Lake/Canada Creek (1982): Investigator observed dead fish in Canada Creek that originated from Woody’s Lake. Investigator stated that “Woody’s Lake is fairly eutrophic from the organic input it receives from chicken houses and hog lots near the shoreline. . . . The lake has had a history of summer fish kills due to oxygen depletion.”
- Crooked Creek (1983): Investigators found dead fish, staining and strong odor of manure. Investigator also found that manure from a chicken house flowing downhill across a pasture into a small tributary of Crooked Creek. Same poultry farmer from 1982 fishkill was identified as allowing manure to enter waterway.
- Amy’s Creek (1983): Fish kill attributed to chicken waste. Investigator of fish kill found chicken litter downstream from chicken house and concluded that the probable cause of the fish kill was discharge of chicken manure. The chicken litter in the house had become wet because of clogging of the drip water feeders causing a large volume of manure to flow out the lower end of the building and downhill through the wooded section and pasture then into the stream.
- Julian Creek (1983): Investigator of fish kill found pockets of chicken litter and maggots as a result of a spill from an earth-laden settling pond.
- Unnamed Tributary of North Fork Oconee River (1985): Investigator of fish kill found there was “no doubt about the source” concluding that the fish kill was caused by hog and chicken manure. Investigators found that lagoon showed no apparent path to the creek but that there was an old manure pile next to the creek that had been eroded by rains. Investigator concluded that the major source of manure was from hog and poultry manure dumped and spread on the bottom land adjacent to the stream.
- Little Wahoo Creek (1987): Investigation concluded that fish kill had occurred where poultry farmer (six house operation) operated liquid manure system but also dumped several large dump truck loads of chicken litter over an embankment into a valley next to a small stream. Water seeping from the manure pile was staining the tributary a dark color. Investigator found that household items (e.g. bottles and cans) had also been dumped. EPD found that no measures had been taken to control runoff from manure piles. It appears that a consent order was entered into for $1,000.
- Little Wahoo Creek (1988): Fish kill caused by low dissolved oxygen levels as a result of large amounts of chicken manure that had been washed into the tributary. Investigator found that the creek had a “foul smell” and that chicken manure had been leaking in the stream continuously since 1987. There was several feet of accumulated chicken manure on the floor of the chicken houses which had become semi-liquified and flowed downhill to an exposed area above a tributary to the creek. In fact, “a steady trickle of manure from this are drained directly into the tributary. Water quality in the tributary upstream of the chicken farm was good.” The Fisheries Department stated that: “[t]he kill on Little Wahoo Creek is the second one we have documented from the same source. . . . I am real disappointed in the way DNR handled this case. The citizens affected by this must surely think the department does not care about pollution enforcement.”
- Unnamed Tributary of North Fork Oconee River (1994): Investigation found that a fish kill had been caused by chicken manure which had entered the stream from a small ditch. The facility had a liquid manure system. The owner of the facility was observed storing chicken manure behind the chicken house. Investigators found that the operator of the facility stored chicken waste above a temporary catch basin that was not operative. There was a clear trail of solidified manure from the chicken house through the basin and pasture to the stream.
- Cavender Creek (1996): Fish kill was caused by waste effluent from chicken farm. Investigation found that creek was “brown colored, foul smelling, and had 2-3 inches along each stream bank with a brown coating.” The report was accompanied by a letter from the owner of a campground who stated that the discharges were impacting his property and that it was the fourth time that year (letter dated July 1996) that he had detected a foul odor.
- Walnut Creek (1999): Fish kill from waste lagoon from chicken operation. Stream was dark brown to black and had a foul odor.
Emergency Response Reports 1997-1999
- Report 12/22/97-02: Caller reported foam from chicken waste on Six Mile Creek because of irrigation during a rain event. Final action taken unknown.
- Report 5/19/98-01: Caller reported ongoing problem of poultry farmer flushing litter from several houses with a hose resulting in runoff onto neighboring property and into a creek. Complaint referred to Department of Agriculture.
- Report 12/21/98-02: Caller reported fans were blowing odor and solids from chicken house onto his property. Complaint referred to Department of Agriculture.
- Report 12/25/98-04: Caller reported discharge from poultry waste lagoons. According to the incident report, the County EMA Director refused to investigate. The report stated that EPD planned to route it to the “Region” to investigate “at their convenience.” Report also stated that “this type of release has occurred several times . . . . [and] the previous releases have already killed all the fish in this creek.” Final action taken unknown.
- Report 4/8/99-06: Caller reported chicken waste being dumped near edge of pond which discharges to other waterways. Final action taken unknown.
- Report 11/22/99-06: Caller reported dumping of chicken droppings into South River. Final action taken unknown.
- Report 3/26/99-05: Caller claims chicken house dumping from lagoon. Operator cited and required to remove waste. Investigation found “litter had flowed to the creek” and that the “flow from the houses was obvious.” DNR prepared a consent order but stated that “we had no interest in pursuing the order so long as” the operator prevented the waste from entering the creek in the future.
- See more at: http://www.green-law.org/info/19644#sthash.c2EOxetP.dpuf