The Washington State Department of Agriculture has fined a Custer, Wash., dairy $6,000 for a manure spill that affected water nearby.
According to the department, Whatcom County Public Works officials in October 2013 confirmed the spill from Pomeroy Dairy into California Creek.
“There are occasional discharges of manure, but something of this size is pretty uncommon,” said Hector Castro, director of communications for the department.
The dairy could not be reached for comment. Castro said the dairy owner has 30 days to appeal the fine.
It’s not certain how much manure was spilled, Castro said.
According to the department, an analysis found elevated levels of fecal coliform bacteria exceeding standards as far as 5 miles downstream from the manure spill. An inspector noted about 30 dead fish, some as far as 1.7 miles downstream from the spill.
Failure to quickly alert the department increased the size of the penalty for the dairy.
“The lack of immediate notification slowed down the response from other agencies,” Castro said.
The Whatcom County Health Department closed the beach at the mouth of the creek and the state Department of Health closed commercial shellfish harvesting in Drayton Harbor for one week, according to WSDA.
The delay created the possibility of a public health issue if anyone had consumed the shellfish, Castro said. The department also considered the exceptionally high fecal coliform levels when determining the penalty.
“The fecal coliform, the bacteria and so forth, were significantly higher than allowed for under the standards,” Castro said. “They were really just excessive amounts.”
The department uses a standards matrix to determine penalties, Castro said.
Castro recommends farmers and ranchers maintain their manure management equipment. The initial investigation found a transfer pipe had a faulty valve, which allowed it to fill with manure. A riser wasn’t working properly, which allowed the manure to discharge.
“My understanding is that they have been very cooperative, that this dairy is otherwise a good operator,” Castro said. “We always work with dairy producers in a situation like this on changes they can make to minimize risk and prevent a future occurrence.”
Penalties paid to the department dairy nutrient management program fund a grant account. Grants pay for research, education and outreach to benefit Washington state dairies.