State defends report; 'We weren't pointing fingers at anybody'
By SEAN ELLIS
BOISE -- Idaho dairymen are taking umbrage with an Idaho Department of Environmental Quality report they say unfairly lays the blame for high nitrate levels in ground water at their feet.
Dairy industry representatives attacked the report during the Idaho Board of Environmental Quality's June 29 meeting. The board is the DEQ's rulemaking and advisory entity.
The report identifies 32 areas of the state with high ground water nitrate levels and dairy representatives said it strongly and wrongly implies their industry is to blame.
"The report is very misleading to the public," said Bob Naerebout, executive director of the Idaho Dairymen's Association. "It sends a message that (the DEQ) is targeting the dairy industry, an industry that employs 35,000 people in the state."
The report is being used by the Idaho Conservation League to petition the Environmental Protection Agency to review dairy nutrient management projects in Idaho's Magic Valley area.
The Magic Valley area in southcentral Idaho is where the vast majority of the state's dairies are located.
"We felt like we were being put in the crosshairs with this," said Hugh O'Riordan, an attorney with Givens Pursley, a Boise law firm hired by the IDA to address the issue.
O'Riordan said the data contained in the report is confusing and actually appears to acquit dairies as the cause of the increased nitrate levels. He said instead of backing up assertions that the issue is concentrated in the Magic Valley, the report actually identifies nitrate hot spots, including one near Marsing, which is located west of Boise and far from the Magic Valley area.
During the meeting, DEQ employees who helped create the report defended it as unbiased and disagreed that it targets dairies.
"We weren't pointing fingers at anybody," board chairman Nick Purdy said in reference to a prior meeting where the issue was discussed. "I can assure you we didn't talk about dairy cows as the problem."
"I read the report ... and it leaves the impression that dairies are somehow responsible for it," O'Riordan said. "It's an official state document and it's misleading. It's as simple as that."
He also pointed out the ICL's petition heavily references the report.
Board members said it was not their intention to single out dairies as the sole or main source of the increased nitrate levels.
Naerebout said dairymen are concerned about nitrates and will do their part to study and address the issue, but they believe other parties also have a responsibility.
"It's not an issue that we don't take very seriously," he said. "We want to truly identify what's going on with nitrates."
He proposed having the USDA's Agricultural Research Service office in Kimberly, Idaho, do research on the issue, an idea both the ARS and board appeared open to.
Naerebout said dairymen would help finance the research.