The CAFO Appeal: How So-Called Environmental Groups are Working to Destroy Dairy

If the anti-farm groups listed below have their way with the Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation appeal to the Department of Ecology, it will mean the end of almost all our state dairy farms. The cost of these demands are estimated at about $1130 per cow for Western Washington farms, or over $750,000 for the average dairy farm. With low milk prices and farms losing money for the past two years, there is no hope for most to pay these costs. Farming in Washington StateWashington state has long been a dairy state. It ranks 10th in the nation in dairy production and the economic impact to the state is measured at $5.2 billion. Dairy products are the state’s number two agricultural product following only apples. Virtually all dairy farms are family owned and operated with an average herd size of 665 cows. The number of organic dairies – now about 5% of the total – is growing rapidly to meet the high demand in the state for organic dairy products.

All this will end if a consortium of anti-farm activist groups succeeds in forcing massive new regulations on dairy farms. These requirements would cost the average dairy farmer with a herd of 665 cows an estimated $650,000 to comply, not including annual record keeping and maintenance costs. Western Washington farms with higher rainfall would likely have to pay in excess of over $1130 per cow. These dairies average 450 cows per farm meaning that even relatively small farms would be paying approximately $500,000 to comply, plus increased annual costs.

Some may have the impression that a 450 or even 600 cow dairy is very large and profitable. The average income for dairy farmers is $70,000 per year and that figure includes the higher earning large farms. Most smaller farmers earn well below that. Western Washington farmers, based on several 2016 benchmark studies, are actually losing between $20 and $70 per cow annually. The small income they take for their families to live is borrowed against the future in these market conditions. As one local farm accountant stated, “Even at $500 per cow, the impact on the industry would be devastating.”

A farmer facing a bill of a half million to $1 million for compliance will see no hope for financing that or being able to repay it. As a Washington State University study shows, our dairy farmers are struggling with low milk prices since January of 2015: “Milk prices have been below breakeven cost of production for 2015 and 2016, resulting in losses that are straining the financial capacity of dairy farm families.” To properly understand this threat, imagine you earn about $60,000 per year (average in Washington state) and you are presented a bill of one million dollars. You are close to maxing out your credit cards already. Wouldn’t you just call it quits?

Without question, our dairy farms will be lost. As farms are an essential part of environmental protection according to the Puget Sound Partnership, the loss of these farms and conversion of farmland to development would constitute an environmental catastrophe.

The consortium of anti-farm activists is led by Eugene, Oregon attorney Charlie Tebbutt who has earned millions in legal fees suing dairy farmers. As reported in Hoard’s Dairyman, Mr. Tebbutt said in court that dairy farmers are killing America. The consortium members appear to be following this extreme and unsupportable position by responding with legal action that will most certainly kill the supposed “killers.”

Background – False Accusations of Farm Pollution

The Washington State Department of Ecology issued a State Waste Discharge General Permit known as a CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) permit effective March 3, 2017. This permit added very significant new burdens on Washington dairy farmers despite the fact that Washington state already has some of the most stringent dairy regulations in the nation. The 1998 Dairy Nutrient Management Act strictly regulates control and application of nutrients – cow manure – and prohibits over application as well as any release to water. The strong compliance and enforcement through the Washington State Department of Agriculture is well documented. More importantly, water quality issues related to dairy operations have improved significantly through these regulations and through the environmental stewardship of the vast majority of Washington farmers.

The legal appeal is fullof completely false statements, distortions and exaggerations that also served as the basis of the “research” presented in the discredited “What’s Upstream” campaign. This research was even discredited for using outdated science by EPA Region 10 officials. The often repeated statements of documented pollution from dairy farms are refuted by the clear language of the state dairy regulations which currently prevent any discharge to water. Improving water quality in areas of numerous dairy farms, such as Whatcom County, demonstrate that the claims of pollution are not supported by objective scientific evidence. DNA testing in the Nooksack river and Bellingham Bay downstream of numerous dairies revealed the presence of animal and human DNA, but none of it was from cattle. This research was conducted by the EPA through the Lummi Nation. Similarly, according to the Capital Press, the Department of Ecology recently found stable or decreased levels of nitrate in groundwater in 24 of 25 wells tested in farm areas in Whatcom County. Only one of the wells tested showed higher levels of nitrate.

Despite clear and compelling evidence, those appealing the CAFO permit demand extremely expensive “solutions” to largely non-existent problems. Below is language from their legal appeal which makes clear the demand for double synthetic lined manure lagoons that represent the single largest cost of the demands:

The permits also illegally authorize discharges to waters of the state without requiring permittees to install and implement all known, available, and reasonable technology (“AKART”). Federal and state discharge permits must require implementation of”echnology-based treatment requirements and standards reflecting all known, available, and reasonable methods of prevention, treatment, and control.” WAC 173-226-070(1); see also 33 U.S.C. §§ 131 l(b)(2)(A) (permits “shall require application of the best available technology economically achievable”). The permits violate these standards by, for example, failing to require double geomembrane (synthetic) liners that are known, available, and reasonable for preventing discharge from leaking manure lagoons.

Both the Department of Ecology and the Department of Agriculture in Washington State have determined that current manure lagoon liners when built to standards provided by the National Resources Conservation Service of the US Department of Agriculture are protective of water. Representatives of the NRCS, which conducts extensive scientific research on manure lagoons, oppose the use of the lagoon liners demanded by the anti-farm “experts” noting they would not improve water protection but may actually increase risks of pollution.

How the costs were calculated

Three Yakima area dairy farms have been required through EPA coercion (see Hoard’s Dairyman report) and a disastrous and flawed court decision to drastically change how they farm in ways never before seen on any dairy farm in the state or nation. The cost to these three large farms already is exceeding $12 million and will likely climb to $20 million and more. The new regulations being pushed by the anti-farm activist groups are based on the same requirements forced on the Yakima farms and, if adopted by the Department of Ecology, would result in the destruction of the Washington dairy community.

Based on the costs absorbed by the Yakima farmers, the current estimate of the regulations demanded by the activist groups would amount to approximately $1000 per cow. That means a dairy farmer with average herd size of 665 cows would be forced to pay an additional $665,000 for the changes required, plus an additional $50,000 in estimated increased record keeping and maintenance costs related to these requirements. Western Washington dairy farmers costs would be higher because of higher rainfall. For example, while manure lagoons in Eastern Washington typically are built to hold about 5000 gallons per cow, Western Washington lagoons hold about 7500 gallons per cow because the increased rainfall adds to storage requirements. The double synthetic lagoon liners pushed by the activists represent the highest but not only cost of their demands.

The requirements forced on the Yakima farmers fall into these categories:

  1. Lagoon liners
  2. Groundwater monitoring
  3. Underground line inspection
  4. Facility changes
  5. Consulting
  6. Record keeping

It should be noted that a number of these items are in process of being installed or implemented and some are still under negotiation with the EPA and the lawyers involved. Final costs cannot be determined until all obligations have been met.

Lagoon Liner requirements

The AOC (Administrative Order on Consent) imposed by the EPA and the subsequent court decision required installation of double membraned synthetic lagoon liners with leak detection. The current cost of installation is estimated at $5.00 per square foot, not including the extensive costs related to consulting and construction planning. This is based on actual experience of Yakima farmers installing these liners which ranged from $6.00 to $3.50 per square foot. Given smaller size of most dairies and the start up costs involved, the $5.00 per square foot estimate would likely be higher for most dairies.

If requirements pushed by the activists or further court action pursued by these attorneys mandate these liners, the estimated cost for the average farmer in Eastern Washington with a herd of 1400 cows would pay approximately $1,050,000. Western Washington farmers require larger lagoons but the average farm size is about 450 cows. These farmers would pay about $363,000 to install these liners.

This “solution” would solve nothing as the scientific evidence for the protection offered by current lagoons is overwhelming and has even been noted by water experts within the activist groups pursuing the legal action.

Groundwater Monitoring

Based on experience in Yakima, where groundwater monitoring wells were required at a rate of about five wells per lagoon, the average farm could expect an additional cost of $50,000 or more to construct the necessary wells. According to the EPA, construction of a 100 well monitoring network would cost in excess of $200,000. However, actual costs on one Yakima farm were at least $15,000 per well with 40 wells required for nine lagoons. An average farm may be required to put in about 8 to 10 wells but given the smaller number an average cost would likely be in excess of $20,000 per well. The EPA reports that a monitoring program for that 100 well network would be $267,000 per year which for a ten well network should be $26,700 per year. Well costs would vary considerably between Eastern Washington and Western Washington because of depth of the water table.

This requirement is absurd for several reasons.
1) The monitoring done in Yakima was intended to demonstrate that the lagoons were indeed harming groundwater and the new lagoon liners would minimize that. No definitive evidence for that has been established to date.
2) Groundwater in virtually all areas of intensive agriculture is high in nitrate because of historic overuse of fertilizer and irrigation, meaning the presence of nitrate proves nothing about current use.
3) Soil testing as currently mandated provides the needed protection against over application of nutrients which all experts agree represents the greatest risk to groundwater contamination.

Underground Line Inspection

Yakima farmers were required to do “smart pig” testing involving running a camera and testing equipment through all pipes used to carry any water or manure on the farm. This is extremely expensive, particularly when farms use these pipes to convey manure to distant fields. All inspection and reporting must be done by certified engineers. The tests identify even minor issues with the pipes which then must be excavated, inspected and repaired or replaced. One farm forced into agreeing to this requirement has spent close to $400,000 with likely more to come. However, this number is likely quite low as the pipes on that farm were related to the 200 acre footprint of the dairy alone. Many farms use underground pipes as an environmental protection measure as these minimize risks of spills and runoffs. These pipes can run through hundreds of acres of cropland. Consequently, these farmers would be penalized for pro-active environmental protections. Because of the limited pipes in the farm with actual costs, we are increasing the expected costs for the average farm.

What makes this requirement so absurd is this kind of testing may match or exceed the testing required of pipelines conveying gasoline, natural gas or other dangerous products. For farms we are talking water and manure, the very material used to grow crops. Even if a crack or break occurs, it will become visible to the farmer and if it runs off into surface water, it constitutes a violation of existing laws. The ludicrous nature of this requirement makes clear that the intention of the activists is not to protect the environment, but simply rid the state of “killer” dairy farms.

Facility Changes

Facility modifications initially demanded of some of the Yakima farmers involved water coming from roofs, collection areas, calf-raising area modifications, etc. What would be required of each farm is uncertain and would be subjective with each farm having to make individual changes. For some this could be very significant, for others likely no changes would be required. Numerous statements made by the attorneys behind these demands show they consider current regulations which allow for zero discharge of manure to water to be inadequate and they would likely demand their “experts” to mandate specific facility changes.

The Yakima farm used to calculate these costs reports no significant additional facility costs, but significant additional record keeping and maintenance costs. Record keeping costs are presented separately, so the number reflects additional maintenance.


We are including the cost of consultants as farms facing these requirements have been forced into hiring certified engineers, consultants, planners and designers whose plans needed both approval from EPA officials and the lawyers enforcing the demands. The hydrogeologists, engineers and agronomists required would need certification from the Department of Ecology which limits the availability of qualified consultants. This raises the practical issue of having insufficient approved consultants available should these requirements be implemented. One large farm reports current costs exceeding $1.5 million in just consulting fees. These include fees relating to lagoon design, groundwater monitoring and pipe inspection. Recognizing that a substantial portion may be related to the fact that this was the initial application of these requirements, and that some of these are counted in the costs of specific items, that total was reduced by 33%. With that reduction the cost would be about $150,000 for the average farmer.

Record Keeping

Record keeping costs reported by the Yakima farmers on an ongoing basis equate to one full time qualified employee equating to $80,000 per year inclusive. It should be noted that the new CAFO permit also significantly increases record keeping costs which are already very burdensome when combined with the existing Dairy Nutrient Management Act requirements.

To put this in context, given typical farm net income of about $65,000 per year, the new record keeping costs alone would take nearly all of that income, aside from any of the other more expensive requirements.


One Yakima farm, while still incurring substantial costs, estimates their burden at about $7.2 million for the establishment of the requirements and about $250,000 in new, additional annual costs specific to the EPA and court orders.

Applying those costs to an average Eastern Washington dairy with an average of 1400 cows and smaller lagoon requirements, the estimated one time totals are about $1.5 million with about $60,000 annual new costs. The smaller Western Washington dairy averaging 450 cows with larger lagoon requirements would pay over $500,000 one time and about $40,000 annual costs. Those new annual costs exceed what many of the smaller farmers earn each year.

Overall, this equates to between $1000 to $1130 per cow. A survey of farmers in spring 2015 showed that if new regulations cost farmers $500 per cow, 77% of our farmers say they would be forced out of business in our state. At $1000 per cow, 98% said they would be forced out.

The anti-farm groups filing this appeal

The appeal document reveals the groups participating:

PUGET SOUNDKEEPER ALLIANCE, a Washington nonprofit corporation;
FRIENDS OF TOPPENISH CREEK, a Washington nonprofit corporation;
SIERRA CLUB, a California nonprofit corporation;
WATERKEEPER ALLIANCE, a New York nonprofit corporation
CENTER FOR FOOD 15 SAFETY, a Washington, D.C. nonprofit corporation
RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, a Washington nonprofit corporation

Washington residents do not want to see an end to our dairy farms

Farmers enjoy very high support from our citizens, despite the efforts of many of these groups through “What’s Upstream” and other unfair attacks to disrupt that support. While citizens support farmers, that does not always translate to legislative, administrative, regulatory and court support. But we very much believe when our citizens, legislators, regulators and judges see and understand the way in which these groups are working to deceive the public and force regulations intended to destroy our farms, these groups will be seen as the anti-farm crusaders they are.

That is why farm groups such as Save Family Farming, Whatcom Family Farmers, Yakima Family Farmers and Skagit Family Farmers will do all we can to inform the public of this effort to destroy a very important and highly valued industry. More than economics is at stake. Our farm communities with thousands of employees and farm families working these farms for two, three, four generations and more are at risk.

Larry Stap of Twin Brook Creamery reacts to the news that Puget Soundkeeper Alliance and friends are pushing regulations that would cost his small farm of about 200 cows about $250,000. It would end his multi-generation family farm and deprive thousands of his customers from the delights of the Jersey Twin Brook Creamery dairy products.

Jason VanderKooy is a dairy farmer in Skagit Valley who traces his family dairy farming roots in Holland back to about 1450. He expresses his commitment to fight to stay in business, while recognizing that his 1400 cow dairy would not survive the $1.5 million or more in regulation costs if Puget Soundkeeper Alliance and friends have their way. Jason points out how more than his farm would be affected. He and other dairy farms produce the organic fertilizer in increasing demand as more and more farmers convert to organic farming. Loss of our 400 family dairy farms would deal a huge blow to the rapid growth of organic farming in our state. Worse, it would greatly contribute to urbanization as dairy cropland would be converted to development, particularly in Western Washington where we have already seen a loss of over 60% of our farmland in Puget Sound.


Washington state has about 400 dairy farms remaining with a total of 277,000 cows. Dairy products are number two in state farm products, following only apples. 95% of Washington farms are family owned and operated – some large, some small and some mid-sized. The average dairy has 665 cows. The farm pictured above is a Skagit Valley dairy which converted to organic farming in the past few years.

All but the very largest farms would be lost if the regulations demanded by Oregon-based lawyers and their anti-farm activist friends from Puget Soundkeeper, RE Sources, Friends of Toppenish Creek and others were adopted.

The environmental loss would be staggering as much of the dairy cropland would be converted to urbanization, particularly in Western Washington. Those concerned about our environmental future need to reach out to these groups and ask them to understand the science of agriculture pollution and stop their assault on our family farms.



Twin Brook Creamery, a 200+ cow Jersey dairy near Lynden, Washington, is one of a growing number of producer-processors. It’s glass bottled high quality dairy products are seen in many stores around Puget Sound where higher-end food products are sold.

Larry Stap, one of the family owners of Twin Brook Creamery is a third generation farmer, working to pass on his farm to the fifth generation – his grandchildren. This farm, like virtually all family farms in Washington state would be lost if the massive requirements pushed by Oregon lawyers, Puget Soundkeeper Alliance and their friends are adopted.​Estimated costs of new regulations if they match the requirements imposed on three large Yakima dairies as the anti-farm groups demand.

As farms are an essential part of environmental protection according to the Puget Sound Partnership, the loss of these farms and conversion of farmland to development would constitute an environmental catastrophe.

Some family dairy farms are large, like this one near Yakima. Large does not mean more contamination or pollution as state dairy regulations restrict over-application of manure and allow for zero discharge to water. The organic fertilizer this large dairy provides is becoming a crucial part of organic farming, rapidly growing throughout Washington state.

The Puget Sound Partnership identifies “degradation” areas for water in the Puget Sound region. Why is it that Seattle, Bellingham and Eugene environmental groups are trying to force farmers out of business because instead of focusing where the real pollution issues are: in our urban areas? Is it because it is harder to raise money for work on urban pollution? Is this why they insist on demeaning our family farms by saying all have given way to “industrial farming”?

Farmers in Whatcom County have taken the lead in restoring water to a fish-bearing stream.

DNA by the EPA testing in the Nooksack river and Bellingham Bay has found no evidence of cattle fecal coliform.

Nitrate levels in areas nearest dairy farms are declining, showing improved water quality attributed to farmer stewardship and farm regulations.

More and more evidence is emerging to support the contention of farmers that few if any are doing more to improve water quality, improve fish and wildlife habitat and protect our precious environment than farmers.

So then why are leading environmental groups trying to put our farms out of business? If you doubt they are, look at the story to your left, and read this on the

EPA study fails to link dairy cows to shellfish bed contamination

The Portage Bay shellfish beds near Lummi Island have been a central focus of the Oregon attorneys and their anti-dairy farm activist friends. Numerous articles and even TV reports repeated their false accusations of dairy causing the shellfish bed closures. These accusations were featured prominently in the What’s Upstream campaign, along with numerous other false accusations.

On October 17, the EPA released a study it conducted with the Lummi Nation. It was expected to provide DNA evidence of cattle contamination. It didn’t. While it found ruminant (hoofed animals like sheep, goats, deer, elk as well as cattle) DNA, it found no trace of cattle DNA.

This was reported in Capital Press on November 21.

From Puget Soundkeeper Alliance’s website:Puget Soundkeeper Alliance’s website contains false accusations, including this message that was on their site for a long time and recently removed. This has been pointed out to them repeatedly by farmers, asking them to be honest and truthful. Those appeals have been ignored. Puget Soundkeeper defended the discredited “What’s Upstream” campaign which they sponsored, despite the EPA complaints about false accusations. This campaign caused deep embarrassment to the EPA Administrator who received 145 letters of complaint from members of Congress and faced questions about it on the Senate floor.

What is false?

1) 95% of our farms are family farms. The average size of our dairies conforms to national averages. Some are large, many more are small, and some medium sized.

2) “far beyond the capacity” An outrageously false statement. Strict regulations determine appropriate use, storage and transport. The organic fertilizer cows produce (the “raw manure” mentioned) is in increasingly high demand by organic farmers as our organic farm industry keeps growing. It would be major blow to the organic farmers to lose this vital source of necessary nutrients. As it is, most dairy farmers use all they produce to grow their own feed crops for their cows.The DailyKos (not a website read by many farmers) featured a story on the massive influx of migrating birds to farmland in Whatcom and Skagit County. It noted farms provide the habitat that would not be available to these birds if converted to urban uses.

A 2017 report showed 18,000 swans in Whatcom and Skagit Counties. Many more snowgeese and ducks.

It also noted 60% of farmland in the Puget Sound region has already been lost.

Urban areas are the primary polluters. Losing farms means losing farmland and all the environmental benefits they provide. So why are urban-based environmental groups like Puget Soundkeeper Alliance attacking farms instead of helping protect them?(Photo from DailyKos story)
The massive influx of winter birds creates a dilemma for farmers. Hosting them provides a visible demonstration of the value of farmland and preserving farms. But, they poop. A lot. At a time when regulations do not allow farmers to apply manure to fields because of wet conditions, the tens and hundreds of thousands of birds descend on the fields, dig them up and poop. The muddy conditions contributes to runoff from the fields into ditches, streams, rivers and bays where it can affect shellfish harvesting.

Water quality tests usually test for bacteria, without distinguishing source. When it comes from the fields, cows (and farmers) are blamed.

However, a recent test in the Nooksack river and Bellingham Bay conducted by the EPA with the Lummi Nation used DNA to improve understanding of the source of fecal coliform. Bacteria contamination here has closed the Portage Bay shellfish beds of the Lummi Nation for most of the year since 2014. Much to the surprise of many, the DNA tests showed ruminant DNA and avian DNA, but no indication of cattle. Ruminants include sheep, goats and deer.

Our request to the board of directors of Puget Soundkeeper Alliance

On November 21, we sent the letter below to the board of directors of Puget Soundkeeper Alliance. This includes a number of leaders of prominent and respected businesses and non-profits. As we have been unsuccessful in making any progress with the Puget Soundkeeper Alliances executive director, it is time the board fully understands the false accusations and the incredible harm their organization is doing to our farms, our communities and our environment.

We are asking for the opportunity to speak to the board directly, let them know the facts about farm pollution and how devastating the demanded “solution” would be.

Update: the board president contacted us saying they were eager to meet. Then we got an email from the director saying their lawyer, the leader of the effort to impose farm-killing regulations, had demanded they not speak to us.


How you can help keep our
​ family dairy farms

If you believe producing our food locally is important, if you believe keeping farmers on the farmland helps protect the environment, if you understand the role of dairy farmers in making our state a great place to live and work, then we need your help.

1. If you aren’t certain what the facts are and who is telling the truth about farming and pollution, let us know. We will provide you with detailed information. Listen to both sides and see who is accurately conveying solid science. Use the contact form on the bottom of this page to let us know your questions and how we can contact you. Or send us an email at

2. If you are certain and you believe the action of Puget Soundkeeper Alliance and friends is harmful to our farms, communities and state, then let them know. If you are a financial contributor to one of the organizations involved, it is especially important that you let them know you do not want your contributions to be used to harm our environment by driving our dairy farmers out.

Puget Soundkeeper Alliance:
Phone: (206) 297-7002
Contact page:

RE Sources for Sustainable Communities:
Phone: ​360-733-8307