YAKIMA, Wash. — A Yakima County plan to address nitrate pollution in the Lower Yakima Valley has not been adopted by the committee that drafted it but will be reworked.
The Yakima County Groundwater Advisory Committee — of 22 local, state and federal governmental officials, agricultural and environmental interests — met Aug. 9 and tabled a vote for adoption, said Rand Elliott, a county commissioner and committee chairman.
“I was hopeful that we could have adopted the plan but some changes were requested so we are back to the drawing board,” Elliott said.
Friends of Toppenish Creek, a local environmental group, and others requested technical and substantive changes, he said.
Staff will put the changes in writing and the committee will meet in two to three weeks to look at them, he said.
Some involved nitrogen availability reports and a request for more attention to legacy nitrates, Elliott said.
The valley has been farmed for more than 100 years with a lot of chemical fertilizers applied in the last 60 years and without much thought to application rates in early years, he said.
“We’ve accumulated a massive amount of nitrogen and it will take a long time to move that in the right direction,” Elliott said. “There are a number of possible sources and a number of possible solutions.”
The plan recommends lining dairy waste water lagoons, extending municipal water and sewer lines and increasing regulations on irrigated farms and dairies. An alternative is the drilling of deeper, community wells in rural areas. The plan has 65 recommendations and is the result of six years of debate and work by environmental groups, dairies, farmers, residents and government officials.
The Washington Department of Agriculture supports the plan. Friends of Toppenish Creek and others are concerned the plan doesn’t do enough to combat nitrate contamination and relies on voluntary compliance.
“The plan is making suggestions to the county and other regulatory agencies and it is up to each of them to pursue elements of the plan as they see fit,” Elliott said.
After committee adoption the next step would be a county State Environmental Policy Act review, then review by the state Department of Ecology, and the county adoption, he said.
Testing between 1998 and 2008 found wells in the Lower Valley with nitrate levels exceeding the federal safe limit of 10 parts per million.
An EPA study concluded five Sunnyside area dairies contributed to excessive nitrate levels in domestic wells. The dairies were sued by the local conservation group CARE and entered into a federal consent order to make change their operations to reduce nitrates and provide residents with bottled water.