By Renee Lewis / Source Fusion.net
GRANDVIEW, WA — Plumes of dust blowing off of piles of manure, the smell of ammonia in the air, polluted groundwater, and a deadly birth defect cluster have residents of Yakima’s Lower Valley worried a new state permit meant to regulate dairy farms won’t do enough to protect their communities.
“I feel the state government has caved to the demands of the dairy industry — the permit the Department of Ecology is putting forward won’t do anything at all to protect the groundwater,” said Jean Mendoza, executive director of Friends of Toppenish Creek.
The environmental group was formed in 2008 by neighbors who worked together to stop a dairy operation from moving in next door to their properties on the Yakama Indian Reservation.
“The population of the Yakima Lower Valley is largely farm workers, it’s a group of people who are not able to speak up for themselves much,” Mendoza said. “People are worried about losing their jobs.”
While the group was successful in keeping that dairy operation out, many others in Yakima’s Lower Valley have not been so lucky. The area is home to some 100,000 dairy cows, and in addition to producing milk, they produce more manure than the environment can accommodate, environmentalists say.
It is stacked, churned and composted, stored in open, unlined lagoons, and spread on fields as fertilizer. Ammonia is released from the manure contributing to air pollution that can have respiratory and psychological health impacts on residents living near dairy operations.
What’s more, unsafe levels of nitrates found in groundwater environmentalists say resulted from livestock and manure applied to crops as fertilizer have been found in at least 20% of the Lower Yakima Valley’s private wells.