- Associated Press - Monday, February 17, 2014

MONTEREY TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) - Liquid manure has leaked from an open-air lagoon at a western Michigan dairy farm into a creek and spread for at least five miles, the state said Monday as health officials encouraged people to stay away from the water.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality said it began investigating Friday after getting calls about a possible spill. Temperatures were in the teens Monday, and the DEQ said the cold weather helped lessen potential problems with the manure and bacteria.

“It will disperse as it goes,” DEQ spokesman Brad Wurfel said.

DEQ analyst Bruce Washburn said a stormwater system failure at Schaendorf dairy farm in Monterey Township, about 30 miles southwest of Grand Rapids, led to the leak into the Allegan County drain system. Manure seeped into Bear Creek and reached the village of Hopkins. Communities don’t draw drinking water from the affected area, Wurfel said.

“It’s going to take time to naturally flush the manure out of the stream and creeks,” Washburn said. “But, the farm is also working to mitigate as much as they can at this point by pumping out water and manure downstream of where the spill occurred to the extent they can.”

A valve failed between the stormwater system and the lagoon, which allowed manure to back up into the stormwater pipes, Washburn said. It wasn’t known Monday how much manure got into the drainage system or how long the leak lasted, the DEQ said.

Washburn said farm staff stopped the flow Saturday morning. Since then, workers at the farm have been trying to pump manure out of drainage ditches. On Monday, Washburn said the water near the spill has “cleared up significantly” since it was reported and the odor of manure has dissipated.

The manure seeped into Bear Creek, which feeds into the Rabbit River, a tributary of the Kalamazoo River that eventually ends up in Lake Michigan.

Farm owner John Schaendorf, who said he was out of state at the time the spill was discovered, told TV station WXMI that crews are working to collect the manure. He said workers plugged the broken valve area with concrete so more liquid manure can’t escape.

“We did make sure it isn’t going to happen again,” he said.

Schaendorf met Monday with the DEQ at his office to discuss the cleanup. He said the pipe where the waste was flowing was covered with snow, hiding it from view. He also said water conditions are improving in the area.

Health officials have issued a no-contact advisory for water in Bear Creek and the Rabbit River, The Grand Rapids Press reported. The advisory from the Allegan County Health Department covers the Rabbit River to where it enters the Kalamazoo River at New Richmond.

The department said Monday that fishing and other recreational activities should be postponed until the advisory is lifted. Manure spills can kill fish by boosting the growth of bacteria in the water and depleting oxygen from the water. Wurfel said so far no fish have been harmed.

The DEQ plans to coordinate cleanup and monitoring efforts with other state and local officials.

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