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Dairy Waste a Concern Throughout Washington State

Release Date: 6/10/1997
Contact Information: Joe Roberto
(206) 553-1669 or 1-800-424-4372

June 10, 1997. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 97-38


If what has been found in Whatcom County is typical of the rest of the state, there are probably hundreds of other dairies throughout Washington that are not doing all that federal law requires to keep cow manure out of streams, rivers and other bodies of water.

That's the conclusion of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency after completion of a wave of inspections in Whatcom County to check on waste management practices at 57 local dairies. The results of that three-month effort have convinced EPA it should continue its unannounced inspections at dairies elsewhere in the state, declared Chuck Clarke, EPA's Northwest regional administrator in Seattle.

“What we learned in Whatcom County is disturbing," Clarke said. "All but six of the dairies we inspected were discovered to have problems that caused us either to go after monetary penalties or to send out warnings."

The Whatcom County results can be summarized as follows:

  • Evidence of actual discharges to local surface waters was found at six dairies. Because the discharges were violations of the federal Clean Water Act, the six dairies were issued complaints that sought penalties ranging from $10,000 to $22,000.

  • At 42 dairies, EPA observed deficiencies in how wastes were being managed. EPA issued these dairies warnings that requested the dairy operators to make improvements.

  • Discharges were discovered at three dairies with herds whose numbers were too small to be fall under EPA's dairy waste regulations. EPA designated these three dairies as  "significant contributors of pollution," a term that allows EPA and the Washington Department of Ecology to regulate them as a source subject to a wastewater discharge permit.

    Clarke said the EPA remains committed to conducting more inspections of dairies in Washington, and the agency is currently engaged in deciding how to assign priorities to other areas around the state that deserve attention.

    It's not a question of whether EPA will continue inspecting dairies, it's a matter of when and where," Clarke said. "EPA wants to devote its energies to those areas around the state where the inspections carry the greatest benefits for water quality."

    EPA's inspection program is part of ongoing efforts by the agency to ensure that all dairies and other concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are in compliance with the Clean Water Act. That statute requires all CAFOs to prevent runoff of wastes that can pollute nearby surface waters. Discharges from CAFOs typically contain bacteria, large amounts of nutrients and other organic matter that can degrade water quality and harm wildlife.

    According to Clarke, EPA prefers that state agencies -- not EPA -- conduct dairy inspections within their borders, and has delegated to Washington, Idaho and Oregon the authority to carry out compliance programs. In Idaho and Oregon, state personnel conduct ongoing inspections.

    "Washington is a different story, and there EPA is doing dairy inspections on its own because inadequate funding and a number of other factors have kept the Department of Ecology from conducting a pro-active compliance program," Clarke said. "Ecology has been performing inspections mostly in response to complaints -- in other words, after problems have become evident, instead of routinely inspecting the dairies before things go wrong."

    Clarke said that EPA last winter chose Whatcom County dairies as targets for inspections after the discovery of fecal coliform bacteria in shellfish beds in Portage Bay near the mouth of the Nooksack River. Animal wastes from the dairies along the Nooksack were seen as a source of the fecal coliform.

    While EPA inspectors are mainly concerned with manure, they also check on how dairies and feedlots store their silage. If pollutants from stored silage are not contained, there is a danger they could reach a creek or stream and deprive the water of oxygen needed to support aquatic life.