Washington dairies challenge EPA groundwater pollution study

September 14, 2020 GMT

YAKIMA, Wash. (AP) — A dispute between Washington state dairies and the Environmental Protection Agency over groundwater contamination is being argued in federal court.

The Yakima Herald-Republic reported Sunday that a 2012 EPA study linked a handful of dairies near Granger and Sunnyside to groundwater pollution.

The dairy industry says the study was flawed and earlier this year the Washington State Dairy Federation and the impacted dairies filed a federal lawsuit challenging the study.


The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit last month rejected the EPA’s motion to dismiss the case on grounds that the statute of limitations had expired.

The study identifies a group of dairies, known as the “dairy cluster,” as a source of high nitrates in nearby wells.

Nitrates naturally occur in soil, but heavy use of fertilizers, including animal manure, and leaky septic tanks increase nitrate concentrations and pose health risks.

The study led to the dairies entering a federal consent decree with the EPA and environmental group CARE.

The decree required the dairies to install double synthetic liners in manure storage ponds and reduce the amount of manure applied to fields as fertilizer.

Dan Wood, executive director of the Washington State Dairy Federation, said the dairies and the federation believe the study did not receive a full peer review. An updated study in 2013 was rewritten by policy enforcers, not scientists, Wood said.

“They misrepresented and changed the level of science and the certainty of information,” Wood said. “Basically they lied to and bullied the farmers into a settlement based on false information.”

EPA officials declined to comment, citing the ongoing litigation.

Attorney Charlie Tebbutt, who represents CARE and other environmental groups, said there is scientific data beyond the EPA’s report linking large dairies to groundwater pollution.

“Instead of attacking an old study and fighting to maintain early 20th century management practices that have been proven to pollute drinking water, the dairy federation should get its members to synthetically line their leaking lagoons and stop overproducing and overapplying manure,” he said.