One Michigan county tells the story of a nation plagued by water pollution

Read the full story at Bridge Michigan.

Murray Borrello, wearing khakis and a loose-fitting brown button-up, walked down a backroad during the summer of 2019 listening to the sounds of the woods. Water from the Pine River flowed slowly beneath him as he looked out over a bridge.

“Oh, I hear a frog,” the Alma College geology and environmental studies professor said. “That’s a good sign.”

Borrello has been monitoring the Pine River for nearly two decades, so he is attuned to the marks of a healthy ecosystem. He and his team of students and community members test water samples from the 103-mile-long river and its tributaries for an array of pollution indicators: nitrogen and phosphorus, bacteria and dissolved oxygen. Since he began the project in 2003, Borrello said contamination in the watershed has only gotten worse. 

To Borrello, the source of the problem seems obvious. “The river is loaded with nutrients, it’s loaded with bacteria,” he told Circle of Blue. “We see it upstream and downstream, we can look at where it’s coming from. It’s coming from application sites of manure, and it’s coming from CAFOs themselves.”

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