Coalition Delivers Thousands of Public Comments for Stronger Permit Before Aug 17 Deadline
Seattle, WA – Local homeowners and environmental justice leaders from communities impacted by factory farm pollution joined health professionals and a diverse coalition of regional and statewide organizations to call on Governor Inslee and the state Department of Ecology to protect public health and drinking water by strengthening a draft permit for concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in Washington State.
“Clean drinking water is a basic human right that everyone is entitled to,” said Felipe Rodríguez-Flores, Director of Civic Engagement and Advocacy for Progreso: Latino Progress. “Water pollution in the Lower Yakima Valley is disproportionately harming Latino residents, and the Department of Ecology’s failure to inform Spanish speakers in the Lower Yakima adds to this injustice. Gov. Inslee’s Ecology needs to do a better job of engaging people of color and protecting everyone’s right to clean drinking water with a stronger permit.”
“Water pollution from CAFO’s is not an East or West side issue, it’s an issue for everybody in Washington State with significant pollution issues for residents on both sides of the mountains,” said Jim Dyjak, a homeowner in Moxee in the Yakima Valley.
“My son is 16 and I don’t want him to grow up surrounded by contaminated drinking water,” said Jose Martinez, a OneAmerica member from Sunnyside, WA. “It is very important for the development of children to have clean drinking water.”
The Department of Ecology (Ecology) is responsible for administering a general permit for concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) to protect water from manure discharge pollution from animal facilities. Ecology issued a draft permit earlier this summer and is accepting public comments until Wednesday, August 17.
Every day concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in Washington State generate millions of pounds of manure, significant amounts of which are stored in unlined manure lagoons and over-applied to farmland. Untreated manure from CAFOs is contaminating drinking water supplies and waterways across Washington with toxic nitrates which can cause birth defects and other health consequences.
“Nitrates are a serious water contaminant in communities near CAFOs; there are also serious air contaminants that can cause asthma and other respiratory issues,” said Dr. Steven Gilbert, PhD, DABT, at the Institute of Neurotoxicology & Neurological Disorders at the University of Washington, and a board member of Washington Physicians for Social Responsiblity. “Children are more vulnerable to air and water contaminants and must be protected. Animal waste treatment must be improved to protect human and environmental health.”
More than 20 percent of wells used for drinking water in the Lower Yakima Valley exceed the EPA’s maximum contaminant level for nitrates. 29% of sampled wells in the Sumas Blaine Aquifer, the drinking water source for up to 27,000 people in Whatcom County, exceed the maximum contaminant level for nitrates. The waste has also been cited as a leading cause of recent shellfish bed closures in Puget Sound.
“Given the lessons we learned in the Yakima dairy litigation, namely that all manure lagoons leak and that monitoring is the only way to ensure protection of drinking water from harmful nitrates, we are extremely disappointed that the state is not following through to require adequate manure management practices by all Washington factory farms,” said Amy van Saun, Legal Fellow at Center for Food Safety. “Nitrate pollution of drinking water is a serious public health threat to Washington residents, and the state has a duty to prevent pollution of ground and surface water through a strong discharge permit.”
The draft permit issued by Ecology failed to accept the vast majority of the recommendations filed by community organizations, environmental groups, and citizens in late 2015. The coalition of organizations is calling on Governor Inslee and Ecology to strengthen the permit by including three key improvements:
• Clear and enforceable limits on pollution,
• Ground and surface water testing, and
• A requirement to use cost-effective technology, such as synthetically-lined manure lagoons, which could dramatically reduce pollution.
“Unfortunately Department of Ecology’s draft permit for large industrial dairy farms falls short of ensuring clean water for all Washingtonian residents,” adds Becky Kelley, President of Washington Environmental Council. “The draft permit must be strengthened to reduce pollution in our waters, to monitor pollution levels so problems can be fixed quickly, and to enable local communities to push for needed changes when they face an urgent pollution problem.”
The coalition has also delivered more than 3200 comments from Washingtonians to Ecology calling for stronger pollution controls for factory farms, with many more expected in the final days leading up to the August 17, 2016 deadline for public comment. To submit comments, community members are encouraged to email Jon Jennings at Ecology at joje461@ECY.WA.GOV, or through the online form at http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/wq/permits/cafo/publicinvolvement.html.
“It’s this simple: if Governor Inslee and the Dept of Ecology strengthen the draft and issue a strong CAFO permit, we can protect our waterways and drinking water from industrial agricultural pollution,” concluded Bruce Speight, Environment Washington and WashPIRG Director. “If the draft rule stands, factory farms will be allowed to continue contaminating our drinking water.”
The Campaign for Clean and Safe Drinking Water Coalition includes the Center for Food Safety, Environment Washington, Friends of Toppenish Creek, OneAmerica, Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho, Progreso: Latino Progress, Puget Soundkeeper, RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, Sierra Club, Washington Environmental Council, and the Washington Environmental Law Center.