To ensure our water is clean enough for the industries and families that relies on it, we fight to stop pollution. And we know that prevention is less costly than cleanup. RE Sources and partner organizations across the state have joined in a legal case against a large and powerful dairy industry to protect Washington waters. On Monday, May 21st, the court case begins in Tumwater, WA and is expected to last one week. 

Q. What is this hearing about?

On Feb. 17, 2017, a coalition of environmental groups filed an appeal with the Washington state Pollution Control Hearings Board (PCHB) challenging the Department of Ecology’s waste discharge permits for concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). The appeal alleges the permit’s failure to include basic water quality monitoring requirements and failure to require best-available technology for CAFOs such as synthetic manure lagoon liners, which prevent pollution from manure leaking into groundwater. The appeal also alleges the permits lack necessary standards to ensure compliance with state and federal water quality laws: the state-only permit authorizes groundwater discharges and removes the power granted to citizens under federal law to defend their clean water rights if dangerous pollution from CAFOs threatens water quality. Read more.

Q. Why does this permit matter to public health?

Short answer: Most CAFOs do no properly manage their manure, causing serious pollution to rivers, drinking water sources, beaches, and Puget Sound. Nobody has the license to pollute the water we all depend on. The cost of cleaning up pollution far exceeds the cost of preventing the pollution in the first place.

Technical answer: Agriculture operations are one of the leading causes of pollution to waterways nationwide, and a major cause of shellfish bed and beach closures in Washington state. Manure is a source of nitrates, fecal coliform, and other pollutants. Despite their significant impact on drinking water and marine ecosystems, Washington state's Department of Ecology is not doing enough to prevent or manage pollution from agriculture operations — unlike it does with most other industries. Poorly managed manure can pose a human health risk. Poor management practices on agriculture operations and lack of oversight from Ecology results in high levels of fecal coliform bacteria from manure entering creeks, rivers, and the Puget Sound. When water is polluted with manure, contact with the water or eating shellfish from the water can make you sick. Fecal coliform pollution is also largely responsible for shellfish bed closures in our region. Nitrate pollution, from the over-application of manure onto fields and the storage of manure in unlined lagoons, passes through the soil and can contaminate groundwater and wells. Nitrates can persist in groundwater for decades and accumulate to high levels as more manure is applied year after year. Drinking water with elevated nitrate levels is detrimental to human health and is associated with respiratory and reproductive system illness.

Q. Will these proposed improvements put local farmers out of business?

No. Dairy farmers are far more impacted by commodity pricing and agri-business policies than by environmental regulations. We simply want Washington dairy farmers to avoid polluting public waters. We want to work collaboratively with farmers toward solutions that benefit our local economy and the environment. We believe slowly phasing in pollution control measures will ease the financial burden, and give CAFOs plenty of time to secure funding for improvements. Read more.

Q. Why are these groups appealing Ecology’s permit?

In January 2017, Dept. of Ecology released a permit that failed to address major sources of pollution from CAFOs, including limits on manure application and groundwater monitoring. The permit does not adequately manage or prevent industrial agriculture pollution harming our waterways. A more environmentally protective CAFO permit should include:
  • Mandatory groundwater monitoring. 
  • Science-based manure application efficiencies and restrictions.
  • Science­-based riparian buffers for streams.
  • Implementation of best technology for CAFO operations. 
  • Adequate agency funding to implement permits. 
Read more on our blog.

Q. What is a CAFO?

Short answer: A Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) is a place where animals are confined and raised in large numbers. CAFOs are regulated because they have a high potential to pollute the water and the air.

Technical answer: A Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) is place that confines animals (dairy cows, beef cows, poultry, pigs, and horses) in an area that does not produce vegetation, and meets certain size thresholds. The CAFO permit applies to operations with more than 200 dairy cows or 37,000 chickens, and gives agriculture operations permission to conditionally operate in a manner that minimizes their impact on waters of the state. CAFOs should be covered by a permit that requires them to manage the manure, litter, and process wastewater generated by the operation to protect water quality.

Quick links for more info on Washington's CAFO permit and livestock pollution.

“State of the Sound: Progress in Whatcom County, but poor marks for the Salish Sea”
published Nov 2017 in the Cascadia Weekly.
"As the number of endangered Southern Resident orca whales continues to decline and Puget Sound Chinook salmon remain threatened, officials say the need to save the two species is becoming dire. A leading theory is the whales are starving because they cannot find enough Chinook salmon, the endangered fish that the resident orcas eat almost exclusively. Concerns are increasing that the iconic whales are on a path to extinction."

"2017 State of the Sound"
report by Puget Sound Partnership, Nov 2017. 
"The spawning population sizes of Chinook salmon are dangerously below federal recovery goals and are not improving. As of September 2017, the Southern Resident killer whale population has only 76 individuals; recovery depends on increasing its main prey, Chinook salmon; reducing the load of toxins entering Puget Sound; and minimizing the impacts and risks of vessel traffic."

“It takes a team effort to keep Whatcom County’s water clean”
published Sept 2017 in the Bellingham Herald.
"Our business leaders recognize the connection between clean water and prosperity as well. Where would Whatcom County be without our farms, our fish companies, our breweries and restaurants, our shellfish harvesters, our recreation and tourism businesses? Our economy could not exist without clean water – it’s the backbone of who we are."

"Fecal matters: It's time to bring balance and fairness to how we protect our water resources" published April 2017 in the Cascadia Weekly.
"Last month, a berm failed at a dairy farm in Yakima Valley. Thousands of gallons of manure-contaminated water flooded nearby homes, rising a foot and a half before receding. In one video, a resident wades in water the color of chocolate milk—water polluted with fecal coliform, E. coli, and nitrates from manure on nearby fields that flooded when the berm failed. For a week, residents couldn’t use their tap water to drink, wash dishes or bathe. Water pollution like this threatens our drinking water, shellfish beds, rivers, and beaches in communities across our state."

"Pollution or Profit? The true cost of doing business"
published April 2017 in the Whatcom Watch.
"No industry should compromise the availability or cleanliness of the land, air, and water we all depend on to live. We believe all industry must be held to the same standards, and responsible for the pollution they produce — no matter how powerful or valuable the industry. It is possible to maintain a healthy, viable business without polluting the water we all must share. It’s been proven by willing farmers for decades. We must find a way."

RE Sources Board letter to Whatcom Family Farmers
(April 2017). 
"At the public policy level, RE Sources has long been a champion of local agriculture and family farms, advocating for stronger agricultural lands protection in the County Comprehensive plan. We and our supporters have participated in collaborative processes with members of the agricultural community, from WRIA-1 to nitrate pollution monitoring, from preventing urban sprawl into ag zones to enhancing lowland agricultural streams and riverbanks for wildlife, people, and water quality. We have also been involved in regional cooperative efforts to preserve and enhance ag lands and rural communities, and to identify threats to those values and the quality of life in our state."

“Environmental groups challenge Ecology’s new permits for industrial dairies”
(Feb 2017). "The permits fail to include basic water quality monitoring requirements and fail to require best-available technology for CAFOs such as synthetic manure lagoon liners, which prevent pollution from manure leaking into groundwater. The appeal also alleges the permits lack necessary standards to ensure compliance with state and federal water quality laws: the state-only permit authorizes groundwater discharges and removes the power granted to citizens under federal law to defend their clean water rights if dangerous pollution from CAFOs threatens water quality."

"Environmental groups respond to Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) final permit"
(Jan 2017).
he waste produced by the CAFO industry is vast. The more than 260,000 adult dairy cows in Washington state produce over 26 million pounds of manure each day collectively. Too much of this manure enters Washington’s surface and groundwater, causing significant public health and pollution problems. The Sumas-Blaine Aquifer in north Whatcom County, home to numerous dairy farms, is the major drinking water source for up to 27,000 residents. This new permit ignores Ecology’s own determination that confirms nitrate loading due to over-application of manure from CAFOs “contributes significantly to groundwater nitrate contamination.”

RE Sources official CAFO permit comment letter submitted to Ecology
(Aug 2016). "RE Sources believes that we can have viable farms and clean water. Along with these comments, we express our dedication to working with local farmers focusing first on those farms that have the most work to do to address water quality impacts. Phasing in new technologies over time and exploring reasonable approaches to groundwater monitoring makes a lot of sense economically for the farmer while protecting water quality. We also want to work with the agricultural community to research and explore funding and financial assistance options for implementing any potential permit requirements."

"Poop in Puget Sound is everybody’s problem; still time to tell Ecology what you think"
published Aug 2016 in the Bellingham Herald.
"We want to see job growth in agriculture and a thriving local food economy. These are not either/or decisions. The problems we face are complex, interconnected and vast, but our county is full of savvy, innovative and compassionate citizens with the skills to address these problems. While advocating for changes to the draft permit to better protect our streams, rivers and drinking water, our clean water team is committed to working with the agriculture community to phase in new technologies and help address the costs of implementation."

"Fecal Matters: Ecology is writing rules for agricultural pollution"
published July 2016 in the Cascadia Weekly.
"As Puget Sound’s degradation continues, recovery efforts need drastic transformation. A solution scaled to the problem requires an increased commitment from governing agencies to implement, and enforce protective measures. The waters of the state are shared by us all, including the salmon, orcas, and other native species. The [CAFO] permit is critical—it authorizes industrial agriculture operations that confine animals to discharge pollution (manure) into waters of the state — and it sets limits and management practices for those discharges."

"Manure and Groundwater Quality"
Department of Ecology, June 2016.
"There are concerns about impacts to groundwater quality from manure generated at animal production facilities (concentrated animal feeding operations; CAFOs). If manure is not properly managed, it can adversely affect groundwater quality. Research indicates that this typically occurs when manure is applied in amounts greater than crops can use, manure is applied when crops are not growing, manured fields are over-irrigated, or manure is stored in lagoons not constructed to a recognized standard."

"Agricultural Pollution in Puget Sound: Inspiration to Change Washington’s Reliance on Voluntary Incentive Programs to Save Salmon"
 white paper by Western Environmental Law Center, April 2016.
"In the National Water Quality Inventory released by the EPA, 'agriculture nonpoint source pollution was the leading source of water quality impacts on surveyed rivers and lakes, the second largest source of impairment to wetlands, and a major contributor to contamination of surveyed estuaries and groundwater.' It is well documented that agriculture is a major contributor to nonpoint source pollution in Washington state."

"Portage Bay Shellfish Protection District Shellfish Recovery Plan"
"The Portage Bay Initial Closure Response Strategy (1998) focused on reducing fecal coliform bacteria from agriculture, on-site septic system, sewage treatment plant, and stormwater runoff sources.
Due to elevated bacteria levels, 5 of 12 marine monitoring stations in Portage Bay were described as “Threatened” and 2 of 12 were described as sites “Of Concern” in DOH’s 2012 Annual Growing Area Review (Schultz 2013)."

"Treaty Rights At Risk: Ongoing Habitat Loss, the Decline of the Salmon Resource, and Recommendations for Change"
A report from the Treat Indian Tribes in Western Washington, July 2011. 
"Stopping habitat degradation is the cornerstone of salmon recovery, but habitat is still declining. According to the Puget Sound Chinook Salmon Recovery Plan, protecting existing habitat is the most important action needed in the short term. Despite this commitment, NMFS’ 2010 assessment of the Puget Sound Chinook Salmon Recovery Plan declared that habitat is still declining and protection efforts need improvement."