By DAN WHEAT
SUNNYSIDE, Wash. -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and five Yakima Valley dairies have reached legal agreements to reduce nitrates and improve water quality.
The dairies, all in the Sunnyside area, have agreed to provide alternative drinking water for residents within a one-mile radius of wells that have nitrates levels above the EPA's drinking water standard of 10 parts per million, the EPA said in a news release.
The dairies have also agreed to:
* Take steps to control nitrogen sources, such as manure and commercial fertilizer, at their facilities.
* Conduct soil and groundwater testing at each dairy to evaluate if nitrogen sources are being controlled.
"This is good news, especially for those working locally to protect Yakima Valley groundwater," said Dennis McLerran, EPA regional administrator in Seattle.
"By working constructively with us ... the dairies have committed to protect drinking water and we have committed to collaborate on practices that keep people safe and farms in business," McLerran said.
The dairies issued a news release saying the agreement ends a threat of enforcement action by EPA and lays a foundation for ongoing scientific testing of groundwater and appropriate mitigation of any problems found.
The agreement provides long-term certainty for the dairies and strong, enforceable measures to protect groundwater, said Paul Queary, a spokesman for the dairies.
"These are family farmers who have lived and worked in this community for decades," Queary said. "They are committed to responsible business practices and working with the EPA to protect the health and safety of their neighbors."
The dairies will live by science but they want that science to be driven by accurate and representative monitoring which they are ready to implement, he said.
The dairies are: Cow Palace, George DeRuyter & Sons, D&A, Liberty and H&S Bosma.
Adam Dolsen, owner of Cow Palace, said the dairies are hopeful the EPA agreement will end lawsuits filed Feb. 14-20 against the dairies by Community Association for Restoration of the Environment, of the Sunnyside area, and Center for Food Safety, of Washington, D.C. The lawsuits allege pollution of drinking water and violations of environmental laws. They threaten fines that could total $550 million and put the dairies out of business, Jay Gordon, executive director of the Washington State Dairy Federation, has said.
Dolsen said Cow Palace and George DeRuyter & Sons are still on schedule for $13.5 million worth of renovations and expansion of George DeRuyter & Sons' manure digester to lessen nitrates and produce renewable natural gas. The system would serve both dairies. Construction is still expected to start this spring but a date has not been set, Dolsen said.
Dan Newhouse, director of the state Department of Agriculture, and Maia Bellon, director of the state Department of Ecology, both made statements approving of the agreements.
McLerran noted the agreements complement ongoing efforts by the Lower Yakima Valley Groundwater Management Area to reduce threats posed to water quality from excess nitrogen from other dairies, other agricultural sources and septic systems.
The EPA issued a report Sept. 27 that said the dairies were a likely source of nitrate pollution to ground and drinking water. The dairies said the report was filled with errors and based on faulty assumptions.