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CARE out of the mix with groundwater group

Photo by Laura Gjovaag.
Vern Redifer sets out the ground rules for presenting budget items at the beginning of a three-hour Lower Yakima Valley Groundwater Advisory Committee meeting.

GRANGER – Helen Reddout and her organization, CARE (Community Association for Restoration of the Environment), resigned from the Lower Yakima Valley Groundwater Advisory Committee Thursday night via a statement read by Jean Mendoza of the Friends of Toppenish Creek.

The resignation was presented at the beginning of a three-hour budget meeting. Reddout has been an outspoken critic of dairy pollution during her time on the committee, which culminated in her organization suing four dairies in 2013 that voluntarily took part in an EPA study on groundwater.

That lawsuit poisoned the water for future progress in the group, leading to issues of mistrust and requirements that participants in future studies be protected by anonymity to prevent further lawsuits.

In her statement, Reddout said her organization believes the groundwater committee “is a waste of our time and the taxpayer’s money.” She said the committee “is an extension of the procrastination we have faced over the years; allowing the pollution of our land, air and water to continue.”

Reddout said agencies could have prevented existing problems 20 years ago if they had not “caved into political pressure” each time the opportunity arose. She said she sees the same thing happening in current groundwater committee meetings, which is why Reddout chose to pull CARE’s involvement with the group.

During the ensuing budget meeting, it was noted that some of the requests for funding might be moot if the committee cannot find farmers willing to have groundwater on their land tested, due to the fear of facing a lawsuit.

The committee also discussed a variety of actions that will require funding in the future and set priorities on those actions.

One item that received some negative feedback was a request from the regulatory working group for $250,000 to craft regulations. Mendoza spoke about the request, saying it is an issue close to her heart.

“We must do something,” she said. “We will be in big trouble in 20 years if nothing is done. But the laws must be carefully crafted to not be punitive. We need to make good laws. Good laws form an infrastructure for future action.”

Agronomist Stuart Turner took exception to the idea that the committee would help to write any laws at all, saying he believed the committee was originally set up to be cooperative and not coercive.

“This is like handing someone a beer, then stabbing him in the back,” said Turner.

Another committee member asked why the group had a regulatory working group if it did not intend to work on laws.

Yakima County Commissioner Rand Elliott said that looking for holes in existing regulations is not beyond the committee’s scope. Kirk Cook from the Washington Department of Agriculture noted that the group has a list of pertinent regulations that it should review.

The regulatory review item received a low priority from most committee members.

The committee decided to meet again in a month for further review of the potential budget. Originally the group’s schedule called for skipping the September meeting, but it was decided the extra time is needed to finalize the budget.

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