Emergency response to manure spills – Are you prepared?

Jun 03, 2014

There are no simple solutions to a manure spill, but thinking through your specific situation, and monitoring daily can help prevent, or at least minimize, the environmental risks and potential regulatory issues. Emergency response to manure spills - Are you prepared? Part 1 detailed the importance of developing an emergency response plan in case of manure spills when manure is being stored, loaded, transported, or land applied. It is important to think through how you would respond to a number of possible spill scenarios and the best actions to take to protect nearby water sources and other sensitive areas. Michigan State University Extension recommends including the 4 C’s of Spill Response in your farm’s emergency response plan; control, contain, comply and clean-up.

Control: Eliminate the Source
In the case of any manure spill, stopping the source of the spill should always be on the first steps of response. Every farm is different so the farm’s response to controlling the manure spill will vary depending on the situation. What if manure is released from a lagoon or earthen basin? A simple answer may be to consider adding a clay-based soil to the berm to increase the elevation of the structure. What if a transfer pipe or other hardware breaks? Try plugging any lines or valves that are leaking. Separate pipes to create an air gap and stop the flow of manure. Stop all additional water/manure/grey water flow to the structure. What if the lagoon or earthen storage structure is leaking at the base or sidewall? Try plugging the holes with a clay-based soil. Consult a licensed professional engineer (PE) for assistance with any permanent repairs. These are just a few examples of the different scenarios and methods to controlling a manure spill.

Contain: Limit the Area Impacted
Once the flow of manure has been stopped, the spill must be contained to protect environmentally sensitive areas. Most importantly, how you react in the first 5-30 minutes will determine the eventual impact of the spill and any possible penalties. Important steps in containing a manure spill may include:

  • Creating dams across streams, ditches or other drainage ways
  • Plugging tile outlets or covering tile inlets
  • Have a Manure Spill Response Kit handy

Comply: Assess and Report Damage
The next step in a spill response is to comply, or to assess and report any damages. It is very important to report a spill to the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development Agriculture Pollution/Spills Hotline 1-800-405-0101. If the farm is permitted with Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, the spill must be reported to either the MDEQ contact in the certificate of coverage or the Pollution Emergency Alerting System hotline 1-800-292-4706. Also, be sure to immediately report the manure spill to your county sheriff or local police. 

Clean-Up: Restore the Affected Area
The last step in a spill response is to restore the affected area or clean-up. This includes having the provisions for emergency pumping and land application of manure (even when field or crop conditions would not normally be feasible). For example an emergency contact list would come in handy if you have manure in the ditch that needs to be pumped and land applied. Consider which fields are best able to handle manure without further damage to the environment or crop. Even with emergency manure application – application rates, methods of application and setback requirements must be recorded and followed.

Assess your risk, consider what the worst case scenario might be and think through a plan to address that situation. For example, knowing the down slope direction from the storage will help you know how critical the risks could be. Know how to get earth moving equipment on site immediately and plan where potential berms would need to be built to divert the flow from reaching surface waters, neighboring properties or roadways. Even when there are not imminent risks to surface waters, have plans in place to control, contain, comply and clean-up a manure spill.

Source: MSUE

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