Regulators to search for sources of ground water pollution

GRANGER, Wash. (AP) -- Federal regulators say they plan to inspect large dairies, feedlots and other operations in Central Washington's lower Yakima Valley that could be discharging pollutants and causing ground water contamination.

The inspections will include unannounced visits, according to Thomas Eaton, state operations director for the Environmental Protection Agency's regional office in Seattle.

The agency has worked with several state agencies for the past 10 months to compile a report on the problem first reported in a series of stories in the Yakima Herald-Republic newspaper.

The EPA will also begin sampling well water early next year in an effort to identify the sources of nitrate and bacterial pollution, which many well owners believe is chiefly caused by the application of dairy manure and commercial fertilizer to crops. Manure and fertilizer are rich in nitrates.

Many of the 55 people at the meeting said identification of the source of the pollution and enforcement against the culprits is long overdue.

Jan Whitefoot of Harrah, who participated in the EPA-led study but has been critical of the process, said the Yakima Valley is becoming "the toilet bowl" of the state.

"We don't have another 30 years to stand around and destroy what we have here in the Yakima Valley," Whitefoot said.

Participants at the meeting favored enforcement over other options. Eaton said that message had been received.

But state Rep. Bruce Chandler said he favors a program to replace shallow wells with deeper wells or small regulated water systems where practical.

"Expanded and aggressive enforcement isn't going to get good drinking water for people," he said. "Folks hate an industry, but if any effort focuses on attacking an industry, nobody's going to be better off."

Adam Dolsen, whose family owns the Cow Palace dairy in Granger and a feedlot in Harrah, didn't publicly speak at the meeting but said afterward that their operations welcome enforcement.

"We have nothing to hide," he said. "We're one of the most heavily regulated industries in the world, and we follow those regulations to the T."

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