Despite the court’s rejection of Ecology’s efforts to impose more stringent requirements, the state agency continues to pursue them.
The farming community in Washington is opposed to the state Department of Ecology’s most recent efforts to add more unnecessary regulation on dairy farms, and disagrees with activists who say Ecology’s proposal for new rules doesn’t go far enough.
Washington dairy farmers are national leaders in innovation and stewardship, in addition to operating their family farms under some of the most stringent regulations in the nation. The Dairy Nutrient Management program of the Washington State Department of Agriculture has served to protect the environment while enabling farmers to compete against other farms across the region, nation and globe. Ecology’s CAFO permit, including the updated version, is applicable to farms which have experienced a pollution event, and the permit exceeds the science-based requirements of the Department of Agriculture. While Ecology has expressed a desire to have farms voluntarily adopt the CAFO permit, it is unlikely that farms will do this based on requirements that would do little to nothing to improve environmental performance but which would significantly increase the cost of farming.
A primary concern of the appeals court that ruled on the new permit in June of 2021 was the need for additional groundwater monitoring for the purpose of determining levels of nitrate in groundwater. Such monitoring cannot identify sources of the nitrate. The USGS has documented that virtually all areas which have been farmed for more than fifty years nationally have significant contributions of nitrate above the EPA limit. Dairy farming is a relatively recent addition to the farming in the Yakima Valley and heavy application of fertilizer and irrigation from previous types of farming are known to have contributed significantly to existing nitrate levels. Additionally, the EPA has documented that On Site Sewage systems, known as septic systems, are significant contributors to nitrate contamination.
Manure storage lagoons are a frequent target of activists and their lawyers. But the Pollution Control Hearings Board supported the conclusions of the Natural Resource Conservation Service of the US Department of Agriculture that lagoons built and maintained to NRCS standards are proven to prevent water contamination. The appeals court also rejected claims by activists and Ecology’s previous efforts to impose more stringent lagoon requirements.