Unequal treatment? Massive sewage spills vs tiny farm spills



Something smells here and it isn’t rotten fish. The Columbian reported on Oct 5 about the massive sewage spill from the Vancouver, WA sewage treatment plant. About 510,000 gallons of sewage, including 400,000 of raw sewage (feces and the like), went into the Columbia River.

This follows on the massive spill in Seattle when over 150 million gallons (yes, million!) went into Puget Sound.

We understand that accidents happen and no one intended to create these environmental disasters. What we farmers have a hard time with is how easily these things are dismissed as minor, while a teaspoon of cow manure into a ditch or a stream is seen by many as an environmental catastrophe.

Here’s what Vancouver’s engineering manager said, downplaying the impact: The good news, Swensen said, is all trace of sewage should be long gone. “The volume of the river is such that by now any of the (sewage) has been diluted to a point it’s not a problem and washed down stream,” he said. “There’s nothing really for us to do.

When the big Seattle spill happened, the environmental groups like Puget Soundkeeper were silent. The Seattle Times finally got a wimpish statement out of them after publishing an editorial about their double standard.

When a dairy farmer accidentally spills even a small amount of manure into a stream, it is a violation of the state’s very strict dairy management laws which call for ZERO discharge. The farmer can be cited and fined. One farmer has a very small spill that was long cleaned up when an EPA official from the Criminal Investigation Unit showed up, packing a gun and handed the farmer a business card that said: “Glock Certified Armorer.” We wonder what would have happened if the farmer had said something like the Vancouver engineering manager: “Oh don’t worry, sir, it’s been diluted and washed downstream, there’s really nothing for us to do.”

Double standard?

What is most annoying is Puget Soundkeeper who purports to work to protect Puget Sound but makes hardly a squeak about these kinds of spills, while at the same time claiming on their website that cows produce manure in quantities “far beyond the capability of farmers to manage” it. That, in farm language is called complete BS. We suggest the leaders read up on the Dairy Nutrient Management Act, and start paying attention to these too frequent “minor” sewage disasters.