By SUE MANNING
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has warned 13 Chino dairy owners they need to upgrade manure handling systems so pollution doesn't reach area waterways.
The dairies contacted last week were among dozens inspected between November 2010 and February, Ken Greenberg, manager of EPA's Clean Water Act compliance office in Los Angeles, said Monday.
Inspections usually take place during the rainy season because that's when problems are most visible, Greenberg said, noting that federal and state officers conducted the inspections jointly.
Dairy owners have until Dec. 31 to make improvements.
If the owners fail to comply, new orders can be issued, fines up to $37,500 a day can be levied and civil lawsuits can be filed, Greenberg said.
Last winter brought record rains up and down the state, said Michael Marsh, chief executive officer of the trade association Western United Dairymen in Modesto. Sometimes the rains were so heavy, it was a challenge for every dairy owner to stay in compliance, he said.
"But we have an obligation to protect California," he added.
None of the dairies receiving compliance orders belong to his group, Marsh said, but the trade group has a 12-member team that focuses solely on environmental regulations. Team members have been sent to Chino to see if they can help, Marsh said.
Chino is 40 miles east of Los Angeles in San Bernardino County.
Most of the time, dairies use open space, surrounded on three sides by earth berms, to contain manure. It is then trucked to various locations.
Every dairy inspected had some kind of manure management plan, Greenberg said. But in a few cases, the berms weren't big enough or they had deteriorated. In other cases, some portions of the dairy were not contained, or maybe maintenance was a problem, Greenberg said.
"We didn't find anybody who had done nothing," he said.
Greenberg said he didn't know how much it would cost each individual dairy. "Many dairies in the area have complied, and we think it's do-able," he said.
Even simple improvements can be costly, Marsh said.
Putting gutters on barns so rainwater is diverted and kept away from manure areas sounds simple, but then you have to collect and divert it with pipelines so the rain water stays separate from other water on the farm, he said.
All of those who received warning orders will have to do something to get back in compliance, Marsh said. They can't just hope for less rain.
If manure does get into the watershed, it creates a heavy organic load, Greenberg said. It can deplete the oxygen and carry pathogens that can be harmful to anyone coming in contact with the water. Manure also adds heavy amounts of salt to the water, he said.
The California Regional Water Quality Control Board requires the dairies to control manure.
"Overall, the permit has been effective and the dairies as a whole have done a good job keeping waste out of the Santa Ana River," Greenberg said.
According to the water board's most recent statistics in 2007, there are 251,000 cows on dairies located in the Santa Ana River area. Of those, 185,000 are in the Chino area and 65,000 are in the San Jacinto or Lake Elsinore area, Greenberg said.
The board also said that in 2006, those quarter million cows produced 940,000 tons of manure.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.