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County pushing plan to address air quality

YAKIMA - A year-long process to address pollution concerns related to dairies in Yakima County took another step forward this past week when the Yakima Clean Air Authority indicated it would seek to make permanent a pilot project.

Dave Caprile is the public information officer for the clean air authority, and he says the plan essentially calls on dairies to conform to best management practices.

He noted that 15 Yakima County dairies volunteered to participate in the pilot project.

The result of the study is that best management practices - including bedding and feeding materials for cows - were found to be feasible and effective.

Caprile says the clean air authority will recommend at a meeting next month that the pilot project become permament effective this March.

He says the effort underway in Yakima County is groundbreaking. While other states, like Idaho, have targeted one specific pollutant that's thought to originate from dairies, Caprile says the county's plan covers eight pollutants ranging from nitrogen to methane to odors. Idaho's plan, he notes, targets only ammonia.

The best management practices, Caprile says, can be as simple as scraping the dairy barn floor more often.

Other practices that are believed to cut down on air pollution include feeding cows in phases, removing and spreading manure frequently and treating recycled lagoon water used for flushing.

Caprile says other best management efforts include reducing the amount of protein in the cows' diet to match, rather than exceed, the animal's needs.

Caprile says though the practices will be adopted by the Yakima Clean Air Authority, there is no enforcement arm to make sure dairies comply.

"This is a policy, not a regulation," he says. A big reason for that, Caprile adds, is that the science is not yet available to distinguish which pollutants may or may not be coming from specific dairies.

He notes, though, that most dairies in the county are already following many of the best practices. "There are some refinements needed and this will help," Caprile says of the clean air authority's policy.

Dairies have a vested interest in participating in the policy, Caprile says, because the federal Environmental Protection Agency is taking note.

"I think the dairy community sees that legislation is coming and this gives them an opportunity to mitigate things before the EPA steps in," says Caprile. "Another incentive is they are able to be a part of the plan and at least their voice can be heard. Their experience and knowledge can be factored in."

Caprile says public reaction to the policy has been mixed, with several negative comments primarily from those who live near dairies.

"People need to be patient, the science is going to come for the air and water and all these things so it can be fair and impartial," he says. "We don't have the science yet to make direct assessments of how much (air pollutants) are being emitted by dairy A versus dairy B."

In the big picture, Caprile says the best management practices plan will pay off for Yakima County.

"I think in the long run we'll see a positive result," he says. "This is a first step and we need to let science lead us before jumping to conclusions."

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