Dairy farmers gratified by Pollution Control Hearings Board rejection of environmental claims in ruling on the CAFO permit
Farmers express concern about impact on Eastern Washington farmers of ruling supporting a standard measurement for safe nutrient application
OCTOBER 26, 2018
On October 25, the Pollution Control Hearing Board released its long awaited ruling on the appeal of the Department of Ecology’s Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) permit. The appeal was submitted by a consortium of environmental groups led by Puget Soundkeeper Alliance (PSA) of Seattle. The Hearings Board hearing was held in Olympia in late May and early June and the ruling found that all assertions made by PSA were unfounded.
“We are overall pleased with the ruling as it confirms the dairy community’s position that current laws and regulations are protective of the environment,” said Larry Stap, fourth generation dairy farmer from Lynden, Washington and president of statewide farm advocacy group Save Family Farming. “We believe there are some errors of fact particularly relating to rulings about when it is safe to apply manure, but the critical issues of lagoon liners, additional surface and groundwater monitoring and other demands made by those appealing have all been satisfactorily resolved.”
Farmers were most concerned about the effort of Puget Soundkeeper to have Ecology require double synthetic liners in manure storage lagoons. Dairy farmers through the Washington State Dairy Federation maintained that current lagoons built to NRCS standards are protective of water. The Hearings Board agreed with the testimony by the expert from the NRCS. The ruling also modified the late change Ecology made to the way current lagoons are measured which would have resulted in a large number of lagoons which conformed to NRCS standards requiring expensive retrofitting. NRCS, the Natural Resources Conservation Service of the US Department of Agriculture, provides the recognized science expertise in manure management. Part of that includes providing the guidelines for lagoon construction to ensure environmental protection. If Ecology was required through the ruling to mandate double synthetic lagoon liners it would have resulted in the loss of most of the approximately 375 remaining dairy farms in the state, according to a 2015 farmer survey.
Another demand made by Puget Soundkeeper Alliance rejected by the Hearings Board was for surface and groundwater monitoring. The Dairy Federation maintained that such testing would not provide any new meaningful information to guide farm practices that was not already provided by existing regulations through soil sampling. Current soil sampling is used as a guide for the correct application of nutrients to crop fields. The ruling did require spring soil sampling in addition to the existing fall soil sampling.
One concern expressed by dairy farmers in the ruling is the continuation of a standard measurement for when early nutrient application can occur. The current Ecology CAFO permit requires the use of a measurement called T Sum 200 which is based on temperature over time. This measurement was developed for use in wetter coastal climates but does not equally apply to Eastern Washington farmers. Farmers note in some years this measurement would needlessly delay application of nutrients causing harm to crops and additional storage requirements. The ruling noted, incorrectly, that the Dairy Federation had supported the use of this in the public hearings on the draft CAFO permit.
“Now is the time for these environmental groups, particularly Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, to come to the table, sit down with farmers and begin to work together. We’ve extended that invitation many times ” Skagit County dairy farmer and Save Family Farming board member Jason VanderKooy commented. “We’ve shown how farmers through responsible stewardship and numerous regulations are continually improving our environmental performance. The claims made about dairy pollution are simply not right and the Hearings Board ruling confirms that. We want to work with these groups and believe by working together we can do even more to protect and enhance the environment.”