Whatcom Dairy Farmers Launch Public Information Campaign to Address Water Quality Concerns
Campaign sends message that accusations of water pollution from dairy farms are false
Threatened with lawsuits and facing inaccurate media reports designed to create outrage against dairy farmers, Whatcom County’s dairy farmers are launching a public information campaign to educate the public and decision makers. The Whatcom County Dairy Federation launched a website called WhatcomFamilyDairies.com that presents clear evidence that current fecal coliform contamination has multiple causes but primarily stormwater runoff from urban areas in the county and in the Lower Mainland across the border.
“We’ve stood quietly by long enough while fingers were pointed at us as the ‘bad actors,’” said group spokesperson Rich Appel. “The facts simply do not support the accusations and it’s time we make that very clear.”
Aggressive and enterprising environmental lawyers have been focusing attention on dairy farms as sources of pollution, such as the successful suit against four very large dairy farms in the Yakima Valley.
“We believe the court completely missed the fact that the pollution issues pre-dated these farms. But even more important is the fact that Whatcom County is not Yakima. Our weather and farming conditions are not the same and family dairy farmers here have done an outstanding job of manure management. We can clearly demonstrate that because of regulation and proactive measures taken by our 100 or so family dairy farmers, those attorneys are barking up the wrong tree when it comes to placing blame for fecal coliform problems,” Appel said.
Recent media reports have particularly upset dairy farmers. These include articles in the local environmental publication Whatcom Watch penned by attorneys from Oregon, including the attorney who sued the Yakima dairies. KOMO TV in Seattle aired an “investigative” report by Jeff Burnside which falsely stated the farmers are not regulated and that the lack of regulation and poor manure management resulted in closure of the shellfish beds.
“Unfortunately, KOMO did a very poor job of fact checking,” Appel said. “They just conveyed the false accusations of a lawyer who used old data back to the mid-1990s when manure management was a real problem. The 1998 Nutrient Management Act completely changed the game. Besides that, farmers here have done many things beyond the regulations to reduce or eliminate their impact.”
“It may be convenient to target our larger farmers for legal action and use the local media to build up public outrage against farmers, but that is neither fair nor accurate,” Appel said. “The water quality problems leading to the shellfish closures are more related to leaking septics, to stormwater runoff from cities and towns, and from high fecal coliform contamination from across the border flowing into our streams and rivers. We’re providing compelling evidence of that on our website.”
Appel pointed out that if expensive new regulation being promoted by environmental groups are adopted, the result will be the loss of the majority of the smaller dairies in our community.
“We had 3000 dairies at one time, we are now down to around 100,” said Fred Likkel of the Whatcom County Dairy Federation. “While the very largest dairies may be able to survive expensive new regulations, most smaller farms will sell out or move to less regulated areas. That was made clear in a survey we conducted among farmers relating to new regulations these lawyers are pushing for. Since dairy farms are not causing the fecal coliform problems or closure of the shellfish beds, if they succeed in driving out farmers through lawsuits or expensive and unnecessary regulations our water will not be cleaner, but we will lose a very important and highly valued part of our community.”
The public information effort is aimed at increasing the awareness of the community about these issues and beginning the process of enlisting the support of leaders and concerned citizens.
“We are in a fight for our survival,” said Appel, “and we know we can’t win this alone. We need the help of those in our community who value farms and farmers. We believe most in our community understand that if farmers can’t survive here, the beauty of the land and the environmental benefits of people caring for the land will go as well. The choice is clear: cows and crops or concrete and cul-de-sacs.”
For more information go to www.whatcomfamilydairies.com.