By STEVE BROWN
OLYMPIA -- Civil penalties dairies pay for manure management violations have been turned around to help prevent them in the future.
The Washington State Department of Agriculture recently approved $35,000 in grants to research ways to keep nutrients out of the state's waters.
Ginny Prest, manager of the WSDA's Dairy Nutrient Management Program, described the two grants:
* $20,000 goes to the Whatcom County Conservation District to evaluate waste storage ponds and seepage rates at dairies. Many manure lagoons were built before current standards were set by the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service. The project will evaluate older ponds and include a seepage test to see how much of the nutrients is leaching into the ground beneath the ponds and, potentially, into groundwater.
* $15,000 was awarded to Washington State University's AgWeatherNet, a network of automated weather stations. Because applying manure to frozen ground can increase chances of manure running off the field and into nearby bodies of water, the project will gauge the temperature of the top 2 inches of soil in the Yakima Valley through a network of probes. Farmers can get near real-time soil temperatures through a web interface or by subscribing to a soil temperature alert system to help them time their manure applications.
WSDA spokesman Mike Louisell said it's significant that the grants fund research in the state's two leading dairy counties.
"The dairy industry supported a law to use the fines to assist the industry in preventing violations of the law," he said. "Other fines, such as for pesticide violations, go back to state general fund.
"This is an innovative way the WSDA is able to use funds to assist the dairy industry in conducting operations in ways that are sound for the environment," Louisell said.
Prest said grants "depend on how much money we have in the coffers, in the penalty accounts," she said. This year that totaled $70,000.
"As a regulator," she said, "I'd just as soon that penalty account stay low because that means things are working well."