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December 09, 2013     Post 43
Botulism Again.

I sure hate writing this article. But it isn't going away anytime soon. And seemed like just a matter of time. Last summer we had a lot of rain and lot of sun and a lot of warm days. We had a few little blue green algae blooms on the various bays. I saw a couple dead gulls floating around in the open lake. Now we have had another botulism outbreak.

Two days ago a friend forwarded a DEC press release re the widespread stranding of dead loons along the lake's eastern shore. Two to 300 loons, long tail ducks grebes and gulls recently came ashore on Jefferson County beaches. Perhaps they were feeding on the offshore ledges of Stoney, Galloo and Main Duck. Loons and grebes and gulls are fish eaters. Long tail ducks (once we called them old squaws) feed on a mix of fish and invertebrates including presumably zebra and quagga mussels. The fish they eat include round gobies that feed on zebra and quagga mussels.

A recent news story on the outbreak notes that a Elmira College prof is giving a presentation entitled “Relaxing of NYS Regulations on Dairy Farms — Threats to Our Water So We Can Have More Greek Yogurt," at 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 17 in Endicott. His presentation is inspired by Gov. Cuomo’s attempt to change the regulations for CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations), raising the threshold requirement for a permit from 199 animal units to 299. As a result, the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter has filed a lawsuit challenging New York’s decision as a violation of the Clean Water Act.

About 3000 loons may have died on Lake Michigan last year from botulism. In 2011 perhaps 6000 fish eating birds died on Georgian Bay.

blue green bloom late October 2011

Meantime, closer to home we are still doing winter spreading of liquid manure from our neighborhood CAFO on the fields adjacent to the lake. Three days ago I drove past a muddy field saturated with standing water that was being “fertilized” by liquid manure ( at a time when there is zero plant growth to take up nutrients). Its bordering drainage ditches were thick with silt and rushing water from recent rains as they fed into nearby Port Bay about a quarter mile downstream.

We've written about the connections between nutrients, manure, and botulism outbreaks before ( in Twinkle Toes and the Riddle of the Lake and elsewhere). I really don't want to go into it in great detail again. Trust me. There is a direct connection between excess nutrients from farm fields and septic tanks, rotting algae, anaerobic “dead zones” and extremely toxic botulism produced by bacteria. The stuff is so deadly it is of considerable interest to terrorists. It's said to be right up there with plutonium. The amount of toxin in the gut of a single maggot can kill a mallard duck. So the contents of a goby's gut or a filter feeding mussel do a number on the fish eating bird that ingests it. (Botulina toxin does not affect invertebrates like the zebra mussel).

To be blunt unless we tighten up on non point pollution from farm fields and get dye testing and enforcement of septic tank leachate on the books this problem is going to be worse. Will the wild call of the loon be a distant memory? Will grebes be another memory, vanished from our region much like the monarch butterfly or the passenger pigeon? How much longer can we chip away at the various strands of the web of life before it fails as a life support system for humans? We know what we need to do here. No more studies are needed! Write the Gov and say no to even more lenient regs on CAFOs in NY. We need tighter manure regs and NO winter spreads! And dye testing here in town. Please.

The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo
Governor of New York State
NYS State Capitol Building
Albany, NY 12224

For more in depth on this topic try google search on 'rick taylor ann arbor loons' for Lake Michigan update.

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