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Washington Dairies Enter Into Consent Agreements

Updated: Jul 16, 2020

By Ashley Ellixson

Cow staring into the camera (Photo by Edwin Remsberg).

Originally published in the May 26th Edition of the Delmarva Farmer.

On May 11, 2015, George DeRuyter & Son Dairy, LLC; Henry Bosma Dairy; and Cow Palace Dairy, LLC entered into consent agreements with a number of environmental groups in order to continue operating as long as the conditions outlined in the agreements are met. These consent agreements are a result of a Federal district court decision in Washington state finding that manure from dairy farms could be considered “solid waste” under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).

This finding has the potential to affect farms throughout the entire United States because RCRA is a Federal act and could potentially impact decisions interpreting RCRA as it applies to agriculture in general. As it relates to this issue, the Act covers the disposal of solid and hazardous waste in environmentally sounds methods. In short, several Washington dairies were found in violation of RCRA because the dairies were not disposing of manure (called a solid by the court) in alignment with the Act.

The consent agreements grant the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the responsibility of overseeing implementation of the conditions and enforcement of the terms. Further, EPA can inspect the dairies at any time upon reasonable notice and during reasonably convenient times.

Taking a closer look at each individual consent agreement, the following topics were addressed:

River in front of a farm (Photo by Edwin Remsberg).

1. Lagoon Lining and Maintenance: Each dairy is charged with double lining all lagoons with geosynthetic clay liners and a 40 mil synthetic liner. This task must be completed between 2018 and 2020, depending on the specific dairy and the amount of lagoons on each facility.

2. Groundwater Monitoring: The three dairies mentioned above, and a few additional dairies in the area, will fund the installation of a grid of 14 new monitoring wells as soon as reasonably conceivable.

3. Technology Implementation: As part of their commitment to reducing the nutrients applied to their operation, the three dairies have agreed to install and maintain new technology. The hope is that these systems will reduce the nitrogen and phosphorus content of the liquid manure. Bosma Dairy and Cow Palace Dairy have already installed the systems and will maintain a centrifuge manure separator. George DeRuyter & Son Dairy has installed a Dissolved Air Flotation Device system.

4. Underground Conveyance Inspection: The three dairies have agreed to inspect all underground conveyance systems, which include but are not limited to piping, joints, manholes, inlet structures, and discharge structures. Inspection practices will consist of pressure testing pipes, video inspection, and documentation of all underground structures.

5. Cow Pens: All dairies are required to install concrete aprons along all water troughs within all pens and build the infrastructure of pipes and the like in order to direct all water waste to the facilities’ lagoon systems. Additionally, dairies must implement a protocol to address all low lying water and wet spots in pens and alleviate said water. Manure scraping of pens is required once a week and all accumulated piles must be removed monthly.

6. Silage Area: All silage must be located entirely on a watertight surface. Natural products, such as hay but not corn, are not considered silage or required to be in the silage area. Rather these materials should be stored in AgBags and situated in such a way that if a leak were to occur it would drain into the lagoon system.

Cows on a field (Photo by Edwin Remsberg).

7. Compost Area: By December 31, 2019, the compost area must be limited to 30 acres. Beginning January 1, 2017, all composted manure will be fully cycled annually so that no compost will remain on the facility for more than one calendar year. Cow Palace has also agreed to participate in an Aerated Pile Project.

8. Manure Application and Field Monitoring: Each dairy will ensure that all future application of liquid and solid manure to fields either owned, leased, or otherwise controlled by the dairies are based on the nutrient management budget illustrated in exhibits of the agreement. Application must be based on residual soil nitrate and phosphors levels and rates articulated in the agreement, individually calculated for each dairy.

9. Provision of Bottled Water or Reverse Osmosis System: Last, Bosma Dairy and Cow Palace Dairy have agreed to participate in the “Clean Drinking Water Project” which is available to residences identified within a geographical region defined in the consent agreement, The project is administered by an outside party, to which each dairy financially contributes.

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