Farms violated laws by using too much manure, groups say


Capital Press

Environmental groups are threatening to sue several Washington dairy farms over alleged groundwater contamination, based on recent findings by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA released a report in September that found dairies were likely contributing to nitrate pollution in water wells in the Yakima Valley. Nitrate is considered a contaminant that some studies have linked to cancer and reproductive problems.

The Center for Food Safety and the Community Association for the Restoration of the Environment have now sent "notice of intent to sue" letters to four dairy companies in the region.

The letters say the groups plan to file suit within 90 days against George DeRuyter & Sons Dairy of Outlook, Cow Palace Dairy of Granger, R&M Haak & Sons Dairy of Sunnyside and Liberty Dairy of Zillah.

Dan DeRuyter, co-owner of George DeRuyter & Sons Dairy, said the company realized that it could become subject to a lawsuit when it cooperated with EPA.

"We're disappointed some people would rush to judgment because there's a lot of work that needs to be done on this issue," he said.

Adam Dolsen, owner of the Cow Palace Dairy, also said he was disappointed but not surprised by the threatened lawsuit.

"Dairy farmers in Washington are heavily regulated," he said in an email. "We willingly participated in the EPA study, but the draft leaves many questions to be answered."

Capital Press was unable to reach the other dairies for comment.

The environmental groups said they plan to file complaints accusing the dairies of violating several environmental laws by applying manure to farmland "in excess of agronomic rates."

The letters claim the companies also store manure in unlined lagoons that allow contaminants to seep into groundwater, and that the dairies have failed to report hazardous emissions.

The environmental groups issued a statement saying they will sue unless the dairies "stop contaminating local drinking water supplies with runoff" and remedy past damages.

According to EPA's study, irrigated croplands are another likely source of nitrate contamination of groundwater, though the "data supporting this conclusion is not as strong" as for dairies.

The study also said there's insufficient evidence that residential septic tanks could be contributing to nitrate in drinking water wells, though contamination is "likely coming from several sources."

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