State drawing heat for new groundwater plan

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By John Fannin – Daily Sun

 — An updated plan requiring dairies and other large-scale livestock operations to better protect groundwater is being met with criticism.

The state Department of Ecology issued the update, Thursday and opponents say it doesn’t do enough.

“In Yakima County, large dairies draw pure water from the deep aquifers for their cows and they pollute the shallow aquifers that people use for domestic wells,” said Jean Mendoza of Friends of Toppenish Creek. “The evidence is indisputable. Drinking water contamination comes from the dairies. This permit is a disappointment to say the least.”

Mendoza is part of a coalition that formally opposed the new rule. It unsuccessfully called for rules such as mandatory groundwater monitoring and science-based manure application.

The permit, which comes five years after the previous one expired, expands from a few dairies to approximately 200 facilities.

“We have developed a more protective permit that gives livestock operators clear direction on how to meet environmental requirements to protect surface and groundwater,” Ecology Program Manager Heather Bartlett said.

It includes new requirements about how and when manure can be spread onto crops and soils.

If soil tests show high nitrate levels, farms must stop or limit manure spreading, or monitor the groundwater, officials said.

And it requires manure lagoons be assessed to provide construction, maintenance, size and site details to determine pollution risks.

“Dairy farmers across the state — and especially in the Yakima Valley — have made significant investments in time and money to improve farm operations,” Steve George of the Yakima Dairy Federation said. “Dairy farmers continue to show regulators and others how they are working to do the right thing for their herds and the environment.”