The Washington Department of Ecology’s new rules for dairies are under legal attack by farm groups and environmentalists.
Both sides are asking a state appeals board to order Ecology to rewrite the regulations for storing and spreading manure.
The Washington State Dairy Federation claims the rules will financially cripple dairies and actually raise nitrate levels in fields.
Meanwhile, a coalition of seven environmental groups allege Ecology didn’t go far enough to keep nitrates from polluting water.
Ecology spokeswoman Sandy Howard said Wednesday that Ecology stands by the rules and will put them into effect as planned March 3.
“There was a lot of diligence that went into them,” she said.
Under the rules, as many as 230 dairies with at least 200 cows must obtain a concentrated animal feeding operation permit, or risk penalties. Dairies that discharge pollutants into surface water or groundwater need a permit, according to Ecology.
Ecology has not identified the dairies, but the department maintains that manure seeps from lagoons, even those built to federal standards, putting virtually all dairies at risk of releasing pollutants.
Previously, few dairies needed a CAFO permit. Ecology expanded the permit’s scope to regulate dairies in a fashion similar to factories that discharge wastewater. Since the new rules were announced in January, no dairy has applied for a permit, Howard said.
The appeals by the dairy industry and environmentalists will be heard by the Pollution Control Hearings Board. The three-member state board hears challenges to Ecology’s decisions.
The dairy federation, joined by the Washington Farm Bureau, said in a written complaint that Ecology low balled how much the rules will cost farmers.
An Ecology report said permit fees, testing fields, and assessing and repairing manure lagoons could range from about $2,000 to well over $300,000.
The federation says Ecology failed to consider significant costs related to holding more and spreading less manure.
Farmers will lose crop production, especially because of increased riparian buffers, and may have to reconstruct lagoons, reduce herds and acquire more land, according to the federation.
Organic farms that can’t substitute commercial fertilizer for manure will have lower yields, the federation stated.
The federation also complained that spring soil tests are unnecessary and could delay planting, leading to more crop failures and leaving more nitrate in the ground.
Environmentalists claimed dairies should be required to double-line manure lagoons with synthetic material and install groundwater monitoring wells.
They also criticized Ecology for not naming which dairies need a CAFO permit and for issuing two permit types.
One version will be available to dairies that don’t discharge pollutants into surface water, but may discharge into groundwater. Since the federal Clean Water Act does not apply to groundwater, environmentalists would not be able to sue dairies in federal court, alleging permit violations.
The environmentalists argue that groundwater and surface waters are connected and regulating them separately amounts to “scientific fiction.”
The groups filing the appeal are the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, Friends of Toppenish Creek, Community Association for Restoration of the Environment, Sierra Club, Waterkeeper Alliance, Center for Food Safety and RE Sources for Sustainable.
They are represented by Eugene lawyer Charlie Tebbutt and Andrea Rodgers of the Western Environmental Law Center.