Western Environmental Law Center attacks on Whatcom dairies filled with old data and erroneous accusations
The Western Environmental Law Center (WELC), an Oregon-based environmental non-profit, is promoting legal action and massive new regulations aimed at dairy farmers. Their widely promoted claims of pollution from dairy farms consist of old data and misstatements of facts. If they are successful in driving Whatcom County’s family dairy farms out of business, they will have done nothing to improve the environment, but instead will be the cause of the worst environmental disaster to face our community -- the conversion of our farmland into suburbia.
They claim dairy farms are CAFOs, or confined animal feeding operations.
Fact: Critics of dairy farms, such as the WELC, like to refer to them as CAFOs, or Confined Animal Feeding Operations. This is an intentional effort to link dairy farms with the negative perception of large beef cattle feeding lots, taking advantage of the fact that few understand the technical definition. In order to be a CAFO one must first meet the standard of an AFO, or animal feeding operation. Those conditions are as follows:
For those not aware of Whatcom County weather, we do have a considerable rainy season, and having animals outside during any rainy season is hard on the animals and the land. As to the first point, given our weather circumstances virtually all animal feeding operations in our climate would be considered AFO’s. As to the second point, EPA is looking at operations where large amounts of animals are stored on small dirt lots where manure may not be contained. Not so the dairies in Whatcom, as the cows are housed in covered barns with comfortable stalls. Their manure is contained on concrete and then transported to lagoons, where it can be applied to the land when crops are actively growing. The idea that dairy farmers contain their animals’ manure and put it in storage during wet times of the year should be considered a positive and not a negative. Trying to link the term CAFO to negative connotations is a disingenuous attempt by critics to connect many of our best dairies to actions that simply do not define reality.
They claim unlined storage lagoons leak at least 1000 gallons per day per acre.
Fact: Dairy lagoons are typically lined and the manure curing in the lagoon adds to the impermeability by a factor of ten according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) of the US Department of Agriculture. All dairy farms in Whatcom County are required under the 1998 Nutrient Management Act to have a nutrient management plan and almost all their storage lagoons were certified to meet NRCS standards by NRCS engineers.
(UPDATE: we are providing a new presentation based on government science that shows the number of 1000 gallons per acre per day is not at all accurate for most lagoons built according to federal government standards.)
The NRCS also points out that all containment systems leak to some degree, including those using plastic liners. Lagoons built to NRCS specifications are certified because of the effectiveness of their containment. Data compiled by the University of California, Davis in a large study of nitrates makes clear that of all the nitrogen produced by cows in the form of manure, only 1% of it is leaked through manure lagoons. This amount of leakage is much less than residential septic systems. More information on this will be provided below.
They claim unlined lagoons near Puget Sound contribute to fecal coliform, nitrates and other water pollution.
Facts: As previously pointed out, most lagoons are lined. So let’s look at fecal coliform contamination. WELC’s accusation is based on outdated information and is in direct contradiction to information provided by the State of Washington regarding fecal coliform contamination. The chart from the Washington State Department of Health in their 2012 study titled Status and Trends in Fecal Coliform Pollution in Shellfish Growing Areas of Puget Sound: Year 2011 June 2012 shows bodies of water near Puget Sound that have been affected by fecal coliform so that shellfish beds are impacted. The shellfish beds with by far the highest fecal coliform counts are nowhere near major dairy areas.
So, why are these areas, including Portage Bay, affected by fecal coliform? According to the State report the primary focus is suburbanization, or development of traditional rural areas particularly those nearest marine waters: “In the early 1980s, nonpoint fecal pollution became the key factor in closure of shellfish beds. Intensive development of rural watersheds and the marine shoreline of Puget Sound have increased the risk of contamination of shellfish resources.”
This becomes even more clear with recent studies by the Whatcom Conservation District on leakage from manure lagoons and their contribution to nitrate contamination.
For perspective, Whatcom Conservation District (WCD) staff compared the USDA accepted calculated leakage rate for a typical dairy farm’s manure lagoon to an equal volume of five residential septic systems. WCD concluded that nitrate discharge from five residential septic systems is potentially ten times greater than the amount of nitrate seepage from one acre-sized manure lagoon. Although dairy manure lagoons may contribute low levels of nitrate, septic systems have an equal or greater potential to pollute groundwater when not designed and maintained properly.
Whatcom Conservation District’s George Boggs, an attorney and agronomist, stated the situation clearly:
“Conclusions that dairy lagoons are major contributors of nitrate contamination to Whatcom County aquifers are misguided. ...It is unfortunate that people don't critically read the scientific articles relating to how manure lagoons perform. The calculated rate of ‘leakage’ overstates the actual contributions of nitrate to groundwater. To say that lagoon leakage is the major source for nitrate levels exceeding MCL 10 (Maximum Contaminant Level @ 10 milligrams per liter) in Whatcom County aquifers is untenable or indefensible.”
They claim nitrates are toxins and high doses cause blue baby syndrome.
FACT: Nitrates in high doses may indeed be dangerous and Whatcom County’s family farmers are concerned about the high levels of nitrates in some areas of the county. However, science on human health risk is very much in dispute as a paper from the National Institute of Health website makes clear. The scientific consensus appears to be the basis for establishing the Maximum Contamination Level, specifically five cases of blue baby syndrome in the late 1940s, is faulty. Scientists studying the illnesses at that time concluded that the high nitrates in a well contaminated with bacteria was to blame, when the more recent studies indicate that blue baby syndrome is caused by bacteria generating nitric oxide in the infants. Furthermore, nitrates in fruits and vegetables are almost universally seen as important for good health and vegetables high in nitrates are a key element of the DASH diet to combat hypertension. For more information about the confusion around nitrates see the fact sheet on the whatcomfamilydairies.com website.
Even if it is established that nitrates in county water are a health risk, it is completely inappropriate to place the blame on today’s dairy farms. Nitrate levels have been high for at least 40 years. The EPA makes it clear that nitrates come from multiple sources including from organic material occurring naturally in the soil. Given recent data about the contribution from septic systems (five septic systems can contribute up to ten times more nitrates than a one-acre manure lagoon), more focus needs to be on the rapid suburbanization occurring in Whatcom County and across the border. Ferndale and Lynden are growing at a rate seven times that of Bellingham, with much of that growth in farmland where septic systems are needed. Our aquifer is shared with the Lower Mainland of BC, in fact 53% of our aquifer is in Canada. The land nearest Lynden and Sumas across the border is intensively farmed and Environment Canada has found high levels of nitrates in that farmland where regulation is considerably more lax than in Washington State. If suburbanization is the cause of water quality problems, the fact that our closest neighbors from Langley to Abbotsford will have a population of 1.25 million by 2031 should be of concern.
They claim the State Department of Health has confirmed manure from dairy CAFOs is responsible for the shellfish bed closures.
FACT: Portage Bay, where the Lummi shellfish beds are located, was closed in the mid-1990s and state officials did conclude that dairies were likely a major contributor to the fecal coliform that required their closure. But then came the 1998 Dairy Nutrient Management Act, regulations that dramatically changed how dairy farmers managed their nutrients or manure. All dairies are required to have a nutrient management plan that specifies zero discharge. Accidental or careless application or system failures can and have resulted in significant fines. But more than that, many local dairies have invested far beyond the regulations including installing bio-gas digesters and many other proactive measures. Water quality testing in the years following the implementation of this important regulation document a 63% decrease in fecal coliform in the Nooksack river and 40% to 80% in tributary streams.
The recent shellfish bed closure is of great concern to dairy farmers given the $30 million investment they made to greatly reduce their contribution to this pollution problem. So, if not from farmers, then where is the fecal coliform coming from?
Contrary to what WELC claims, the State Department of Health has made it clear that suburbanization of rural land near marine water is the primary cause of fecal coliform contamination in our shellfish growing areas. We saw this earlier in the chart of compromised shellfish areas where very few were located near dairy farms.
The growing role of cities, towns and urban sprawl in fecal coliform contamination was also made clear in a report on water testing by Whatcom County Public Works. The report of the Portage Bay Shellfish Protection District Bacteria Monitoring Study of December 2009 shows that the areas of greatest concern were the basins closest to the City of Lynden, particularly related to storm events with stormwater runoff. There are several monitoring stations on the Fishtrap Creek, but the stations F1, F4, F4a and F4b are located within the City or directly downstream from the City. The report stated:
“When bacteria load was calculated the basins exhibiting the highest mass export of bacteria were F4b, F4, F4a and F1. Therefore, future source elimination efforts should focus on these basins...this provides further evidence that the Fishtrap watershed is a significant source of bacterial contamination for Portage Bay...it is recommended that future source control efforts focus on the urban areas that are associated with the city of Lynden” (p.47)
While the State of Washington and Whatcom County appropriately identify bacterial contamination with urban growth, WELC seeks to place the blame on dairy farmers in their attempt to drive dairies out of business.
They claim over-application of manure to fields is common practice and contributes 66% of the nitrogen inputs to the Sumas-Blaine aquifer and 58% of nitrate contamination in the Lower Yakima Valley.
FACT: We can’t speak for Canada as we know that berry growers there in the past used a lot of manure on their crops coming from the large poultry farms across the border. We also know there are calls for regulation of the dairy farms across the border to accomplish what Washington State farmers have accomplished in reducing pollution. The fecal coliform counts flowing from Canada into the US water was so high in the summer of 2014 that a boil water notice was issued for the area immediately north of Lynden. Whatcom family dairy farmers typically operate in compliance with their nutrient management plan and state regulations including in the application of nutrients to crops. Several farmers have indeed been fined for accidental discharges, but as the State Department of Agriculture has pointed out, the compliance among farmers is very strong.
The blame that WELC attempts to heap on dairy farms for an aquifer that is 53% in Canada, as well as tying local dairies to Yakima, demonstrates their misguided efforts to focus on dairy farmers. Whatcom County is blessed with a massive underground aquifer plus abundant rainfall (usually) that fully recharges the aquifer. It’s completely inappropriate to compare Whatcom County’s water situation with Yakima. If they were sincere about protecting water quality and our environment, they would look to the numerous other sources of pollution rather than focusing on Whatcom County’s family dairies.
They claim 1% of CAFOs in the state are currently covered by a waste discharge permit and are actively discharging into the waters of the state.
FACT: Whatcom dairy farmers operate under strict pollution regulations as part of the 1998 Dairy Nutrient Management Act. We’ve already discussed how effective this regulation has been in dramatically reducing dairy farms’ contribution to water pollution. WELC is promoting
regulations that would do nothing to improve water but would drive dairy farms out of business. A survey of dairy farmers in May 2015 made clear that additional regulations would drive most local farmers out of business or force them to move to less regulated areas. The result would be no significant improvement in water quality but the loss of the caretakers of the land and the replacement of cows and crops with concrete and cul-de-sacs. We find it difficult to believe that an environmental organization would take the position of WELC and we strongly encourage this organization and others who care about the environment to get better informed of the responsible action of Whatcom dairy farmers to protect our environment and community.
They claim nutrient pollution from dairies is exacerbating ocean acidification in Puget Sound’s delicate ecosystem.
FACT: We’ve made it clear that the “nutrient pollution” they use as a basis for this accusation is a fiction. WELC insists on continuing to use old data to support their irresponsible accusations, data dating back to the mid-1990s before the implementation of the 1998 Dairy Nutrient Management Act.
The Western Environmental Law Center is an Oregon-based non-profit organization funded by donors and through successful legal action where they can be paid legal fees. We believe they are either exceptionally careless in their research or intentionally dishonest in their accusations against farmers. If they succeed in persuading judges, lawmakers or regulators based on these accusations, the result will be an environmental catastrophe for Whatcom County. Water quality will not improve, but based on what we now know about the impact of development and urban sprawl, water quality will be further impaired. It’s difficult to see how a so-called environmental organization can be taking their position.
Whatcom County farmers are exceptional in many ways. One of the most important is their eagerness to be responsible stewards of the land and to minimize or eliminate any negative impacts of their farming practices. The facts bear out the positive results of regulation, compliance and proactive measures.
We encourage Whatcom County citizens and community leaders to get informed and involved. The future of farming affects all of us. We cannot afford to let these false and harmful accusations stand.
View the Western Environmental Law Center attacks here.
Whatcom Watch article written by attorneys is full of errors
The March 2015 Whatcom Watch article by Andrea Rogers and Charlie Tebbutt can be found here.
Here is the response signed by Blair Thompson of the Dairy Products Commission and Dan Woods of the Washington State Dairy Federation, printed in the May edition of Whatcom Watch:
A recent Whatcom Watch article penned by two attorneys paints a harrowing portrait of Whatcom County’s dairy farmers. If their story is to be believed, local dairy farmers are irresponsible, out-of-control “industrial operations” bent on destroying the very natural resources on which their families and farms depend for their survival. But is their portrayal a fair one? Are they – as attorneys are wont to do – excluding evidence from their narrative that might help a jury arrive at the truth?
Before rushing to judgment, Whatcom’s dairy families urge Watchreaders to hear the other side of the story.
Full disclosure. Both attorneys are formerly or currently associated with Western Environmental Law Center – whose business is suing animal agriculture over violations of environmental regulations, real or purported. The appearance, at least, of financial self-interest is undeniable.
Old data. The authors support their allegations with numerous citations; but many of the cited references are beyond mandatory retirement age. 1997, 1994, 1992, 1990 – and Richard Nixon in 1970? These stale statistics ignore a very large elephant in the room: passage of the watershed Dairy Nutrient Management Act in 1998 (with dairy industry support) was the turning point in dairy environmental compliance, when old ways were jettisoned and a new “normal” was embraced. The Act established a “zero discharge” standard on contaminated water from dairy farms; requires all dairies to follow a Nutrient Management Plan enforced with mandatory inspections; and erected a sanctions regime for violations. According to Ginny Prest, the Washington State Dept. of Agriculture’s Dairy Nutrient Program Manager, “From the initial start-up 17 years ago, the progress dairy farmers are making has been phenomenal.” During 2013 and 2014 combined, 94% of Whatcom County dairy compliance issues identified either by inspection or complaint warranted only “informal enforcement measures” – warning letters and Notices of Correction. Only a small percentage required formal enforcement action – a Civil Penalty or Administrative Order. Whatcom dairy farmers are doing a good job of meeting the environmental protection standards set for them by relevant authorities.
Whose nitrates? No one – including dairy farmers – wants contaminants in the water we all share. Dairies seem get all of the blame for fecal coliform and nitrate contamination; but do they deserve it? Sources of these contaminants can include runoff from chemical and manure fertilizers applied by home owners and crop producers; storm water runoff; leaking septic tanks; non-dairy farm animals; and the increasingly abundant wildlife that graces our county. Contaminants can also occur naturally, as decaying plant and tree residues deposit bacteria in our streams that tests as fecal coliform. And don’t forget that decaying alder trees deposit nitrates, too. Dairy’s footprint has decreased by over 25% in the past 15 years, yet many of these other contamination contributors have seen their footprint increase. Despite all these qualifying factors, the attorneys still point their fingers at dairy as the culprit.
Taking action. Still, dairies long ago accepted that they were part of the problem and stepped up to play a role in solving it. Much of a dairy’s State-mandated Nutrient Management Plan focuses on the responsible handing of manure. The keys are the application rate (amount), timing and placement. Dairy farmers must also understand the nutrient density of the material as well as projected crop utilization to ensure a safe application. And dairies are required to keep detailed records of their applications to verify their actions. It isn’t always a straightforward process. “Whatcom County is complicated by a high water table and abundant precipitation,” Prest says. “Both create challenges to the storage and application of dairy manure in a way that protects both surface and ground water.”
But dairy farmers keep trying. The Whatcom Conservation District has introduced a Manure Application Risk Management system supported with manure spreading advisories and recommended spreading setbacks to help farmers more effectively manage the process. Their workshops supporting these management tools are well attended by local dairy farmers. “Landowners throughout the farmed areas of the county voted to assess themselves to [fund], create and manage six watershed improvement districts and together have formed an Ag Water Board,” says Lynden dairy farmer Ed Blok, Board President of the South Lynden Watershed Improvement District. “All six watershed districts are committed to identifying sources of fecal coliform contamination and to take corrective measures … with increased monitoring, monthly education sessions and direct technical assistance to support enforcement of regulations.” These steps are consistent with the dairy industry’s 20-year record of working with consumers, other farmers, businesses, tribes and city, county, state and federal government to address environmental challenges on a systemic basis. Speaking of dairy’s efforts to protect shellfish beds, Bill Dewey of Taylor Shellfish Farms – a leading Puget Sound harvester – said, “The dairy industry, frankly, were some of the first to step forward. They’ve been great stewards in the watershed … they are really leaders in this effort to clean up the watershed.”
New rules. One of the challenges Whatcom’s dairy farmers face in making further environmental progress is the very set of rules designed to encourage it. Current regulatory requirements are based largely on environmental data collected in the 1990s. Many things – including wetter prevailing weather patterns – have changed in the intervening 30-odd years. The regulations that bind dairies need to be examined and updated on the basis of current environmental needs.
Pointless bureaucracy. Our lawyer friends conclude their article with a call for a state discharge permit for all medium and large dairy operations. Since all Washington dairies are already forbidden to make any discharge under the Dairy Nutrient Management Act, the object of such a permit is perplexing.
Baseline and beyond. Whatcom dairy farmers aren’t alone in their efforts to evolve their industry toward heightened sustainability. A Cornell University study reports that nationwide a gallon of milk produced today uses 90% less land and 65% less water than in 1944. The national dairy herd is only 21% of its size in 1944 – while milk production has increased many times over and the quality and safety of dairy products has vastly improved. The dairy industry’s overall carbon footprint is 63% less than it was in 1944. The industry has committed itself to reducing its carbon impact by a further 25% by 2020. This was a dairy industry voluntary decision, not the requirement of a regulator.
There’s something cautionary about out-of-state attorneys prescribing solutions for what they see as Whatcom County’s environmental challenges. It’s not impossible that if those claiming to act on behalf of the environment get their way, the result could be the conversion of Whatcom’s already diminishing farmland to tract housing, strip malls and parking lots. One imagines that even the most concerned of our citizens might find that the ultimate environmental disaster.
KOMO TV "Investigative Report" filled with factual errors...and worse
On November 22, 2014 KOMO TV (ABC affiliate Seattle) ran an investigative report on Whatcom County dairy farmers. The reporter, Jeff Burnside, made no attempt to present a balanced account of water quality issues in Whatcom County and ignored the good information presented to him by experts including Virginia Prest of the Washington State Department of Agriculture and Fred Likkel of the Washington State Dairy Federation.
This report, sadly, illustrates why trust in the media now stands at about 20% and represents a strong example of how media reports focused on creating audience interest through outrage can hurt innocent people.
We prepared a rebuttal video highlighting the numerous errors in facts presented as well as exposing the manipulative techniques used to paint the worst possible picture of Whatcom County’s family dairy farmers. Unfortunately, as of this time KOMO TV is refusing to grant us permission to air that video because it contains their copyrighted material. Instead, we are highlighting the concerns we have with the report and providing a link to the report so you can view it for yourself.
View the KOMO TV story on dairy farms and water pollution.
“Shellfish, swimming beaches and drinking water are being contaminated by pollutants from farms.”
All the details about water quality issues relating to farms are on our website at www.whatcomfamilydairies.com. But this strong statement designed to attract maximum attention isn’t even close to being true.
“Government regulators are failing to stop that pollution…none of Washington’s dairy farms have a permit to pollute.”
All dairy farms are required to get a permit to farm and are regulated by the Washington State Department of Agriculture. Failure to meet the terms of that permit result in citations and fines. The report even mentions the citations and fines even while it denies that farms are regulated.
Mr. Burnside begins his report by showing farmers asking him to go home and stop hiding in the bushes. Actually, the person who asked him to go home and mentioned the word “nitrates” is a friendly neighbor, but not a farmer. He says the dairymen are “agitated” at the sight of the camera. Most people would be if a TV crew is seen hiding in the bushes. Why does he spend valuable air time showing this “agitation”? These farmers and neighbors gave Burnside exactly what he came looking for here: farmers are bad guys wanting to do their dirty deeds out of view of the public and snoopy reporters. To set up this agitation and lead the story with it shows his manipulative intent.
“Nitrates, a threat to human health. They come from cow manure when they move into the ground water…”
A simple online search would have shown Mr. Burnside that his claims about human health risks are no longer supported by the best science. Nitrate levels in groundwater are under review by the EPA, which is understandable when most nutritionists including those in the federal government recommend diets high in nitrates from fruits and vegetables. More information about the confusion surrounding nitrates and health risks versus health benefits is available on our website.
Despite the confusion, nitrates are still considered a contaminant by the EPA and we support the efforts to address contamination. However, the flat claim they come from cow manure is completely out of line. The EPA states there are many sources. In Whatcom County primary concerns are the growth in residential septic systems and impacts from Canada since groundwater flows from the lower mainland of British Columbia -- a relevant fact never stated by Mr. Burnside.
Burnside then repeats the government health claims about nitrates including cancer, birth defects and blue baby syndrome.
Unfortunately, this appears to be outdated health information. Numerous documents on the National Institutes of Health website make clear that previous studies leading to conclusions about blue baby syndrome were faulty and the most recent studies suggest there is no scientific basis for concerns about nitrates in drinking water. However, until the EPA completes its mandated review, nitrates remain a legal contaminant and we respect that. We just think honest reporting would have made some of the conflicting reports about this more clear.
Manure lagoons leak up to 500 gallons per day and are not required to be lined.
The truth is almost all lagoons are lined and comply with the federal standards of the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The clay lining of the lagoons is made up to 10 times more impervious by the curing of the manure in the lagoon according to the NRCS. Extensive study by the University of California, Davis showed that only about 1% of the cows’ manure leaks from the lagoon. The Whatcom County Conservation District has researched this issue and found that five residential septic systems can leak up to ten times as much nitrates as a one acre manure lagoon.
“Sometimes lagoons overload and break…”
It has happened but it is very rare. And if it does happen, those regulations that Burnside says don’t exist will result in citations and significant fines for the farmer.
“those nitrates get into drinking water from wells…”
Whether or not nitrogen applied to fields and crops gets into groundwater depends on many things including rainfall, the rate of application, and the degree the plants can take up the nutrients. That’s why farmer must file and comply with nutrient management plans. These provide very detailed controls over when farmers can apply and how much. The goal is “zero discharge.” The regulators can fine farmers for not having a certified nutrient management plan which specifies how much nutrients they can apply and when, for discharging to waters of the state, and for not maintaining proper nutrient management records. And if farmers apply beyond the crops nutrient requirements and discharge to state waters, they can be fined for that as well. Failure to comply or even keep proper records, can be very expensive.
“29% of wells in Whatcom County are contaminated...the most contaminated in the state..”
Yes, that is true. But what Mr. Burnside doesn’t say is that these levels of contamination have been with us since testing began and that the nitrates in agricultural areas are typical around the nation. It is not a new phenomenon, and certainly lagoons have nothing to do with these levels. He also doesn’t mention that much of our groundwater, particularly in the area he references, flows from Canada where high nitrates have been tested for a long time. There is no question that farming over the years has contributed to higher than currently allowed nitrate levels and that dairy farm nutrient management practices in the past before regulations have contributed more than they should. But, his finger pointing at dairy farms on this issue is completely wrong and inappropriate. (Then there is the question of the health benefits vs. health risks of nitrates as discussed earlier.)
“I am outraged!” “is suing polluting dairies.”
Andrea Rogers is the source of many of Mr. Burnside’s accusations and it is quite clear when you look closely at this that his intention is to highlight her claims alone and help her show anger and emotion toward farmers. Note how this segment starts. She says “I am outraged,” but in a way that can only be in response to a question: "Are you outraged?" This is not journalism. It is manipulation and propaganda.
He points out that Andrea is suing polluting dairies. Did this not trigger a concern on his part that maybe her story wasn’t quite the whole story, and that she had a dog in this hunt? Namely, the hundreds of thousands of dollars of fees--or much more-- to be gained if a suit is successful.
“She believes well water contaminated from factory farms is one of the most significant public health threats facing Washington state.”
Apparently Mr. Burnside thinks this claim to be credible enough to repeat it. We wonder if he had bothered to ask state health officials if they thought well water was the greatest public health threat what they would say. “Factory farms?” Yes, that’s a term the anti-farm activists like to throw around. All Whatcom County dairy farms are owned by families, most have been farming for multiple generations and hope to pass their farm on to their children. Unjustified attacks like this from fee-seeking lawyers amplified by audience-seeking “journalists” represent one of the greatest threat to the future of our family farms.
Authority to regulate taken from Ecology and given to Department of Agriculture whose mission it is to promote agriculture…”their job is not to protect the environment, they don’t have the expertise..”
Here is what Andrea Rodgers really objects to. She thinks the Department of Agriculture shouldn’t be the regulator. Has she really looked at the Dairy Nutrient Management Act? You can find it at www.wadairyplan.org. Does she think the Department of Ecology has the expertise needed to review, approve and implement the highly detailed nutrient management requirements of the law? These requirements get into the deep weeds of how to run a farm. Note, the operating assumption is that manure is a waste product. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is organic fertilizer in increasingly high demand. Mostly used by the farmers to help their feed crops grow it is even finding wider applications to produce electricity, clean bedding and has use even in the automotive industry. Watch this Toyota video.
..the law says you cannot pollute the water...but the Department of Agriculture says it prefers voluntary compliance rather than fines.”
Ask the farmers who have hefty fines whether the Department has any teeth. But the claim here is the farmers are polluting the water with the full support of the Department. Another ludicrous claim and offensive to the Department. First, farmers are not polluting the water. Second, the regulations that ensure that are comprehensive, detailed, and enforced. The same cannot be said for many other sources of water contamination.
Ok, this may be a bit petty but Fred Likkel spelled his name out to Mr. Burnside twice. “Ikkel” must have sounded more appropriate given the topic. The real problem here is that Fred gave him much more than the ten minutes offered and provided great detail about the proactive measures the farmers have taken to prevent water contamination as well as details about the regulations that Burnside insists don’t exist. Was that used? No. Only the off the record comments about having limited time. Since a separate video was shot of this interview, we have record of the important information about farmer’s regulatory compliance and proactive measures that was provided. Instead of using any of that, which didn’t play into Burnside’s desire to create blame and outrage, he focused on Fred’s time limitation and then twisted his comments about lack of knowledge of lagoon leakage to conform to his storyline that farmers are just denying, running and hiding.
“all that manure is pumped out and put on fields as fertilizer, sometimes waaay too much of it just to get rid of it…as a result the fecal coliform gets into the Nooksack where it empties the contaminants onto swimming beaches and prime shellfish beds in Puget Sound”
First, dumping manure on fields in excess of what the plants can take up is not allowed under the Dairy Nutrient Management Act. If farmers did as Burnside says they do, they would be violating the regulations he insists they don’t have and subject to citations and fines. Second, if Burnside had done his research he would have seen that after the 1998 Dairy Nutrient Management Act was passed fecal coliform testing showed reductions in the rivers and streams from 40 to 80%. Now they have increased again, resulting in Lummi shellfish bed closures. But testing makes very clear the primary contribution is now from urban areas such as Lynden and Ferndale. This data is very consistent with state information which shows other shellfish beds far more compromised across the state, and there are no dairy farms near those areas. The state has said that residential growth into farmland and near marine areas is the cause of the fecal coliform contamination of shellfish beds in Puget Sound.
“Ballew [Lummi Nation Chairman] is inclined to blame the dairy industry this time, too…”
Based on conversations with Chairman Ballew and tribal leaders, we are not convinced that Burnside accurately presented Chairman Ballew's view on this.
Whatcom family dairy farmers are very sad and concerned about the shellfish bed closures and are committed to doing what they can to identify the sources of fecal coliform and help address this issue. But water testing makes clear that placing the blame on farmers is simply wrong. The 1998 Dairy Nutrient Management Act was a game changer and water testing since then makes clear that dairy farm contribution to current fecal coliform contamination is limited.
“So even though all experts and even dairy regulators agree that all dairies pollute…”
This is simply outrageous. The only “expert” quoted by Burnside is no expert but a lawyer looking for fees. And dairy regulators agree that dairies pollute? The regulations specify “zero discharge” and the regulator in charge said that dairies are doing an excellent job. There is simply no basis for Burnside to make this outrageous claim.
“just one percent of Washington’s dairies has a permit…”
The truth: 100% of Washington dairies must have an approved nutrient management plan which specifies zero discharge.
Our question: is Jeff Burnside a trustworthy journalist?
The record suggests not.
In April 2012 Jeff Burnside was fired from a Miami NBC affiliate for editing a tape of George Zimmerman’s 911 call. The edits made it look like Zimmerman was a racist and completely changed the character of the actual call.
The quotation from Mr. Burnside following his firing that “something that seems very clear is often very, very complicated” is appropriate given his unwarranted attacks on Whatcom County’s family dairy farmers.
We have great respect for our news media. They have a tough job to do. But they have an obligation to tell the truth as best they are able. We firmly believe that KOMO TV failed us in that obligation and in hiring Jeff Burnside with a known record of editing to leave a false impression they needed to show additional editorial fact checking.
All Whatcom dairy farmers want is for you to know the truth.