Thursday, February 9th, 2023
Thursday, February 9th, 2023

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Manure spill wreaks havoc on Black River

Staff report

Lowville, N.Y. — Three million gallons of liquid manure that
spilled into a river snaked its way toward Lake Ontario as workers
diluted the stinking mess already blamed for killing thousands of

The manure flowed into the Black River in northern New York when
a wall of a holding lagoon blew out late Aug. 10 or early Aug. 11,
said Jim Martin, Lewis County’s emergency manager.

Two days later, the toxic sludge had traveled some 20 miles from
its starting point at a Lowville farm and was expected to flow past
Watertown and into Lake Ontario.

The spill is being blamed for killing what state officials
estimate are thousands of fish, including perch, smallmouth bass,
catfish, and walleye.

Low water conditions and high water temperatures contributed to
the problem, making it difficult to dilute what DEC spokesman Steve
Litwhiler called “a slug that’s moving downstream.”

Martin said emergency officials were trying to flush out the
contamination by increasing the flow from the Beaver River, which
feeds the Black River.

“The farther down it flows, the more its going to get diluted
and the less harm it will do,” Martin said.

Still, the city of Watertown shut off its water intake and
farmers in the dairy-intensive county were being warned not to let
their cows drink from the river.

Martin said it could be a week or two before all the manure is
flushed out, though wet weather could speed things along.

“If we get some good rain over the weekend it’s going to help a
lot. If it stays hot and dry, it’s going to stay a while” he

The spill came from one of the largest farms in Lewis County,
Marks Farms, about five miles south of Lowville. A woman answering
the phone at the farm said the owner was not speaking to

DEC spokesman Michael Fraser said there were no charges filed
against farm owners on Aug. 12. The agency was investigating the
spill, he said.

Watertown’s water treatment plant operator, Brian Gaffney, said
the city could draw from 60 million gallons of reserve supply
through Aug. 13-14, if needed.

Martin said there also were cottage and camps along the river
that rely on it for drinking water. He said there were no reported
injuries related to the spill.

“As the material moves downstream we expect to see more adverse
impacts,” Fraser said.

Litwhiler said DEC fisheries biologists returned to the river
after the spill had passed downstream and their tests showed live
fish in the river. “We found fish, so that’s a good sign,” he said.
“But this was a major fish kill. It affected every species in the

The coldwater section of the Black River, a popular recreational
fishery, was not impacted, since that stretch lies above Lowville.
The Black River is known for top-quality trout fishing until it
turns into a primarily warmwater fishery downstream in the Lyons
Falls area.

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