Pure Farms, Pure Waters


Working to address pollution from the dairy industry in Washington State.

Waterkeeper Alliance, Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, and North Sound Baykeeper are working with Western Environmental Law Center and other partners to address pollution from the dairy industry in Washington State. The lack of regulation of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) by federal and state agencies has led to a public health crisis in the state. CAFOs throughout the state of Washington are contaminating surface water, groundwater and drinking water resources of the state with nitrates, phosphorus, bacteria, and pharmaceuticals. CAFOs generate so much manure that it must be stored in large storage lagoons or piled on the ground. This vast amount of waste is not sent to any kind of wastewater treatment plant, like with human waste, but is dumped into unlined lagoons and placed in huge quantities onto the ground. As a result of advocacy and precedent setting litigation by partners, the Washington State Department of Ecology originally proposed a draft CAFO permit under the Clean Water Act that made substantial revisions to Washington State’s historic regulatory approach, in large part, to more stringently regulate dairy CAFOs and address the documented groundwater pollution problems. As support for the new requirements and mandatory permitting, Washington’s Department of Ecology (DOE) stated that “[s]cience and current practice documentation point to a discharge to ground from lagoons, which requires a permit.”  

However, in response to outcry from the dairy industry, WA DOE ultimately issued permits that lack basic water quality monitoring and do not require best-available technology for CAFOs, such as synthetic manure lagoon liners, which prevent pollution from manure leaking into groundwater. The permits also lack necessary standards to ensure compliance with state and federal water quality laws, including authorizing uncontrolled discharges of animal waste into groundwater – threatening the drinking water that many communities depend on. The over-application of manure has been linked to contamination of drinking water due to high levels of nitrates. In Washington State, more than three-quarters of pollution cleanup funds between 2005 and 2013 were used to clean up waters contaminated by agriculture.

On February 17, 2017, Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, RE Sources for Sustainable Communities – North Sound Baykeeper, Waterkeeper Alliance, Center for Food Safety, Sierra Club, Community Association for Restoration of the Environment (CARE) and Friends of Toppenish Creek filed a legal challenge 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 groups are represented by the Western Environmental Law Center and the Law Offices of Charles M. Tebbutt. Under the administrative appeal process, citizen groups have the right to challenge final agency actions and rules to ensure that regulations adequately protect public resources and comply with the law. The groups seek rewritten permits that comply with the law and protect public waterways and water resources.