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Dairy Farms Paying To Give People Clean Water

As a result of litigation, some dairy farms must pay to give people clean water.PNG
As a result of litigation, some dairy farms must pay to give people clean water.PNG
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OUTLOOK, Wash -- A number of people’s houses will get outfitted with devices to provide them with clean drinking water, but those machines aren't cheap and someone has to pay for them.

For the Morales family, the water is safe today, but in summer of 2018, they could have been drinking water having over the safe limit of nitrate.

“I never thought about water being contaminated until he told us,” Erica Morales said.

Erica Morales, who lives near several dairy farms, got her well tested for free and found out her water could cause blue baby syndrome or cancer in adults.

The test was provided by the Clean Drinking Water Project after a federal judge declared three dairy farms had polluted groundwater.

“The cow palace decision not only established that lagoons leak and even if built to federal standards they're polluting ground water and they're contributing to an imminent substantial endangerment to human health and the environment,” CharlieTebbutt, an environmental attorney said.

Tebbutt, the attorney who led the lawsuit against the dairy farms said the outcome of previous litigation set a precedent which could change how the industry must deal with cow manure.

“They have to line their lagoons, synthetically line their lagoons and most are way behind schedule on that, but they have to line their lagoons and they have to more carefully manage their manure,” Tebbutt said.

The settlement also requires Cow Palace, Bosma and Deruyter and Son dairy farms to pay $2000 each month to pay for well testing, reverse osmosis machines and bottled water.

In the near-term, Tebbutt says regulators haven't done their jobs, but the lawsuits have forced some dairy farms to slowly change their ways.

“Litigation against the dairies has brought about change in the Lower Yakima Valley, ecology has willfully ignored the problem,” Tebbutt declared.

In 2017, the Department of Ecology issued permits for using cow manure and environmental groups feel those permits were too weak.

“No one is happy with ecology,” Jean Mendoza, Executive Director for Friends of Toppenish Creek said. “There’s lots of disagreement about what needs to go into permits, the industry believes in a softer approach and gently encouraging people to do the right thing.”

Those permits will be up for changes in 2021. With much uncertainty going forward, both environmental groups and the dairy farmers feel taking care of the environment matters.

“There’s a huge amount of care among the dairy community to make sure we’re doing what is best for the environment, Jason Sheehan, owner of J&K dairy said. “Because in the end, what’s best for the environment is best for our families and our business.”

In the mean time, people like Morales must live with not knowing how much unhealthy water they consumed before their wells got tested.

Now not everything is a blame game, Friends of Toppenish Creek did praise the dairy farms for improving how they manage their manure use by composting more of it.

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The EPA has forced tighter regulations on the dairy cluster and some environmental groups say if used on all dairy farms, the pollution would go away after 10 to 20 years.

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