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Leaders of Michigan Congregations of Catholic Sisters Urge Governor to Address Water Concerns

October 18, 2017, Adrian, Michigan – Leaders of eight Michigan congregations of Catholic Sisters have joined to urge Michigan Governor Rick Snyder to address deep concerns they have about the state’s enforcement of regulations protecting waterways. In a joint letter, dated October 17, the 27 leaders – whose congregations have had a presence in Michigan for up to 170 years – called on the governor to “take immediate steps to enforce existing regulations limiting total E. coli loads in our waterways and act to establish limits for other harmful nutrients.”

In a separate letter to the governor, also dated October 17, the General Council of the Adrian Dominican Sisters addressed concerns about the presence of microcystin, E. coli, and other nutrients found in the south branch of the River Raisin, following up on earlier correspondence about the matter. 

“We are concerned that the State of Michigan is setting the bar too low in its tolerance of microcystin in waterways that domesticated animals and wildlife use as drinking water; that Michiganders swim and fish in; and that cities (in our area) draw upon for municipal water,” the General Council wrote. The letter was written in response to information sent by Teresa Seidel, Director of the Water Resources Division of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), on behalf of the governor in reply to a letter from the Council dated September 11. 

In their follow up letter, the Sisters asked the governor to explain the basis for the State of Michigan’s determination that the concentrations of microcystin found in Black Creek – a tributary of Wolf Creek which feeds Lake Adrian, a primary source of city drinking water – are “well below levels of concern,” as stated by MDEQ. Specifically, the Adrian Dominican Council members asked the governor, “Given the Flint crisis, what direction are you providing MDEQ regarding critical public health determinations like this?” 

The General Council also asked the governor to address the failure of the State of Michigan to develop and publish guidelines that would compel those with permits for concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), or factory farms, to evaluate their waste management practices and take corrective action as needed. Test results from the area “repeatedly show E. coli in excess of approved levels,” the Sisters noted. 

Members of the General Council are Patricia Siemen, OP, Prioress; Mary Margaret Pachucki, OP, Vicaress/Councilor; Frances Nadolny, OP, Administrator/Councilor; Patricia Harvat, OP, Councilor; and Elise D. García, OP, Councilor.

The joint letter to Governor Snyder of the leaders of the eight congregations also addressed the need for stricter regulatory enforcement. “We are concerned that current industrial farm (CAFO) permit regulations and best-management practices are failing to protect Michigan waterways, putting the health and well-being of all Michiganders at risk,” the Sisters wrote. 

“We add our voice to those calling for an end to the practice of giving federal taxpayer dollars to polluting factory farms, for a ban on the application of untreated waste on frozen or snow-covered ground, and for a reduction in the rate of phosphorous allowed from manure applications to match other forms of phosphorus fertilizer,” the congregation leaders stated.

The joint letter was signed by the leadership of the Adrian Dominican Sisters (Adrian), Consolata Missionary Sisters (Belmont), Grand Rapids Dominican Sisters (Grand Rapids), Home Visitors of Mary (Detroit), Marist Sisters (Eastpointe), Mission Sisters of the Holy Spirit (Saginaw), Servants of Jesus (Saginaw), and Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (Monroe).  

The General Council of the Adrian Dominican Sisters had received a letter from Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan (ECCSCM), a nonprofit organization that has done extensive testing of waterways in south central Michigan. The ECCSCM letter addresses specific issues raised by MDEQ in its response on behalf of the governor to the earlier letter sent by the General Council of the Adrian Dominican Sisters on September 11.


Statement of Adrian Dominican Sisters Calling for Common Sense Regulations on Factory Farms

May 24, 2017, Adrian, Michigan The General Council of the Adrian Dominican Sisters issued the following statement in response to a report issued today on factory farms in Michigan by the Less=More coalition.

A new report issued by the Less=More coalition, titled A Watershed Moment, provides a clear analysis of the magnitude of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in Michigan and their impact on the Great Lakes watershed, pointing to the need for common sense regulations to safeguard the public against billions of gallons annually of untreated animal waste.

According to the report, as of the end of 2016, there were 272 factory farms operating in Michigan, confining nearly 21 million animals that produced over 3.3 billion gallons of manure, urine, and other waste, annually. “These farms racked up 644 environmental enforcement actions by the State of Michigan through 2016, while receiving $104 million in [federal taxpayer] subsidies since 1995,” the report states.

“The Great Lakes are the world’s largest source of fresh water and a God-given gift,” said Sister Patricia Siemen, OP, Prioress of the Adrian Dominican Sisters, expressing support for the coalition’s recommendations. “All life depends on water. We have a moral and spiritual obligation to protect our waterways and desire to stand in support responsible farming.” 

The report is a follow-up to an analysis done in 2015 by the Less=More coalition that targeted the role factory farms and the manure they produce play in contributing dissolved phosphorus in Lake Erie’s toxic algae outbreaks. The 2017 report found that the amount of dissolved phosphorus has nearly doubled since the 1990s in the River Raisin. The River Raisin flows 139 miles, draining an area of more than 1,000 square miles encompassing five south Michigan counties, including the city of Adrian, into Lake Erie. 

“It is very troubling to know that we are permitting a waste stream that feeds the type of toxic algal blooms that three years ago left nearly a half million people without drinking water in the Toledo area,” Sister Siemen said. “We have been a part of the Adrian and larger River Raisin watershed and farming communities since the 1880s. We have an obligation to farm in ways that keep our waterways clean not only for those who live downstream from us but also for the health and well-being of all who live near them today and for generations to come,” she said. 

The Adrian Dominican Sisters join the Less=More coalition in their call to:

  • end the practice of giving federal taxpayer dollars to polluting factory farms,
  • ban the application of untreated waste on frozen or snow-covered ground, and
  • reduce the rate of phosphorus allowed from manure applications to match other forms of phosphorus fertilizer.

According to A Watershed Moment, nearly 80 percent of the waste source was dairy cows; the remaining waste was produced by a combination of beef cattle, swine, chickens and turkeys. “Unlike human sewage, industrial livestock waste is not treated,” the report notes. “The vast majority of this untreated animal sewage is stored in giant open cesspits called lagoons, or under slatted barn floors, to which millions of gallons of clean groundwater are added, until it can be applied as liquid fertilizer on farm fields.”

“We are grateful for the comprehensive research and analysis done by the Less=More coalition, particularly our local Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan group, which spearheaded the study and has been tracking factory farm pollution in Lenawee and Hillsdale Counties for more than 15 years,” Sister Siemen said. “It is a great public health service."

At their General Chapter of 2016, the Adrian Dominican Sisters made a commitment to address ecological degradation in a statement that reads: “Recognizing the violence against Earth community that places our common home in dire jeopardy and intensifies the suffering of people on the margins, future generations and all creation, we will sacrifice to mitigate significantly our impact on climate change and ecological degradation.”

The Michigan Chapter of the Sierra Club offers more information on the issue of factory farms. Read their information on CAFO mapping.


 

 

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