YAKIMA Rural residents, environmentalists and dairymen all said something smells with the state Department of Ecology’s proposed new rules requiring permits for manure lagoons.
More than 125 people turned out last night to voice a nearly unanimous rejection of the new rules during a public hearing in Yakima Convention Center.
For most of the night, it appeared that only agency employees support the proposed new manure lagoon rules.
If approved, the rules would require all manure lagoons that “discharge” to state waters to obtain a permit, divert clean water away from dairies, prevent animals from contacting clean or surface waters, restrict application of manure farmlands adjacent to surface water, test soil nutrient levels in the spring and fall, pay one-time manure lagoon assessment fees and more.
Zillah-area resident Larry Findell was among those rural residents blasting the agency’s plan, which he said fails to address manure lagoon nitrate seepage and related pollution.
“There just seems to be too many cows here,” he said.
Findell blasted Ecology for putting corporate dairy profits above the health of rural residents.
“The product is being exported and we’re keeping the pollution,” he said.
His comments came during the hours-long public hearing, which followed an initial presentation by Ecology’s Jon Jennings and a question-and-answer session with agency employees Kelly Susewind and Bill Moore.
Dan Wood of the Washington State Dairy Federation addressed the concerns of dairymen during the hearing on the proposed permitting plan.
Under the plan, dairymen would have to do soil tests in the spring and fall, test manure, pay ridiculously high assessment fees and give up use of large tracts of land.
He blasted proposed permitting restrictions on applying manure to land within 100 feet of surface water, including irrigation ditches.
“The limits on spreading are going to create storage issues,” he said.
Dairyman Dwain Forester of Royal City was also worried about the plan’s economic impact on producers.
“I can’t afford your damn program. Period,” he said.
Forester questioned Ecology’s economic analysis and challenged the agency’s assertion that all manure lagoons leak.
During the prior question-and-answer session, he also asked if all dairies would be required to obtain a permit.
Susewind used circular logic to say the permits weren’t mandatory.
“This is not required for all dairies. This is required for all dairies that discharge to the waters of the state,” he said, adding the agency is operating under the assumption all manure lagoons leak.
According to Susewind, if Ecology employees believe a manure lagoon is leaching nitrates into the ground, the agency will take enforcement action, requiring the business to come into compliance.
That enforcement could take the form of required permitting and testing, fines and even lead to court actions.
“The burden of proof will be on Ecology,” he said.
That didn’t sit well with rural residents who said large dairy operations are leaching nitrates into their drinking water.
“We’re deeply disappointed in Ecology,” Jan Whitefoot of Harrah said. “There’s no protection for groundwater. Public health cannot wait another five years of you wasting our time.”
The town of Harrah is on the Yakama Indian reservation, where Ecology does not have jurisdiction over dairy operations and manure lagoon permitting.
Whitefoot wasn’t the only one to question what the agency is doing to protect groundwater from dairy nitrate pollution.
“I am concerned,” Teodora Martinez Chavez of Granger said, testifying with two young grandchildren beside her.
Chavez, of Hispanic descent, said she wants groundwater protected for her family and others in the Lower Yakima Valley. She also noted that the dairies are important to the local economy.
Trying to lighten the intense mood in the room, she said: “Milk is important. Just look at my grandkids, turning white from all the milk they drink.”
Chavez said she grew up in Granger and wants to ensure dairies continue to operate locally, but also wants to be sure drinking water is protected.
Speaking on behalf of lobbying group Latinos Progress, Felipe Rodriguez Flores, too, said he was concerned about water quality and protection.
“Clean drinking water is essential for human life,” he said, adding Hispanic residents in the Lower Yakima Valley are the ones most affected by dairy pollution.
“You cannot be a green state if you ignore the effect and disproportionate harm on people of color,” he said. “Protect all people from environmental injustice.
Dozens of others spoke against the rules last night. They and others can provide written comments to Ecology until 5 p.m. Aug. 17.