Digging Deeper: How can healthy soil lead to clean water?

Digging Deeper: How can healthy soil lead to clean water?

Last week, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released reports that predicted yet another summer of toxic, cyanobacteria algae blooms in Lake Erie. Now, we would like to tell you part one of our three-part plan to stop these blooms from afflicting our Great Lakes and the other important waterways of Michigan. Our solution: Healthy soil.

Act now: Sign our petition to get Governor Snyder and the State Legislature to do something about toxic algae blooms

This week, MEC is leading a summit sponsored by the Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research (CIGLR) that will bring together top minds from around the country to better understand the connection between soil and watershed health. Tom Zimnicki, our Agriculture Policy Director, is on the steering committee of this summit, and is facilitating the discussions on how healthy soil begets clean water.

When soil is healthy, it has an increased capacity to retain water and it can better promote efficient nutrient uptake within crops, both of which will cause less polluted runoff from entering our waters. The agricultural community already advocates for the utilization of conservation practices like cover crops, reduced tillage, and diversifying crop rotations that are shown to improve soil health. Another, less utilized, but more traditional method for improving soil health is through the application of compost.

When applied in an agricultural setting, compost builds microbial communities, improves porosity, enhances crop yields, and even achieves (natural) disease and pest suppression. Furthermore, using compost helps to minimize fertilizer and soil runoff into our waterways.

Compost offers a range of benefits to urban landscape as well. By increasing organic matter by as little as 1% through the addition of compost, soils may increase their water storage capacity by over 15,000 gallons per acre. This extra storage helps prevent localized flooding and reduces nutrient dense and pollutant laden water from flowing off urban lands and into waterways, resulting in toxic algae blooms in Lake Erie and around the state.

Michigan is primed to become a leader in compost development and implementation. With approximately 35% of our municipal waste consisting of organic material we could produce roughly 1.7 million tons of compost annually. Under Michigan’s current solid waste management plan, we annually discard millions of dollars of valuable materials that could otherwise be reprocessed into valuable products like compost. Manufacturing compost is also a job creator, locally sustaining four times as many jobs as incineration and twice as many compared to landfilling.

Widespread proliferation of composting will require investments in research and infrastructure to efficiently process and transport these materials as well as properly funded oversight from state agencies. Most importantly it will require the state to recognize that sending organic materials to a landfill is unsustainable for future generations and that we are literally throwing away millions of dollars of useful materials and ultimately, cleaner water. By signing and sharing this petition, you can join the fight in protecting our waters.

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