Photo: Illustrative/Adobe Stock
YAKIMA, WA—Today, Community Association of Restoration of the Environment (CARE), Friends of Toppenish Creek, and Center for Food Safety warned Majestic Dairy in Yakima Valley that they will take them to federal court to stop contamination of local drinking water supplies with animal waste from the confinement dairy operations.
The notice comes several years after a landmark settlement where a "cluster" of four other dairies in the Lower Yakima Valley agreed to implement sweeping changes to their operations following a series of similar lawsuits brought under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) by some of the same groups. Those dairies, like Majestic, seriously mismanaged their manure and were causing contamination of the drinking water supplies in the Lower Yakima Valley with nitrates, bovine antibiotics, phosphorus, and other pollutants. Nitrates can cause severe health problems such as blue baby syndrome, several forms of cancer, autoimmune system dysfunction, and reproductive problems. Dairies in the Lower Yakima Valley, including Majestic and other dairies the groups have brought to court, create a massive amount of pollution. As a result, about 20% of Lower Yakima Valley domestic wells have water that is unsafe to drink.The notice of intent specifically alleges that nearly a dozen wells are located downgradient from the Majestic Dairy, with nitrate levels ranging from just above the federal safety level to ten times that amount.
"Majestic Dairy is yet another example of the environmental problems CAFOs pose in the Lower Yakima Valley," said Charlie Tebbutt, lead counsel for the groups. "This facility has contaminated fields, leaky lagoons, and seeping compost areas, which cause widespread groundwater pollution. This pollution fouls nearby residents' wells with unsafe levels of nitrate that exceed the federally-mandated standards. Plaintiffs' lawsuit will hold Majestic Dairy accountable for this pollution."
"CARE has fought for decades to stop these dairies from treating our communities as dumping grounds," said Helen Reddout, President of CARE. "We will keep at it until the dairy industry stops polluting."
While some of the dairies in the Lower Yakima Valley have begun to clean up their acts after the historic court victory and subsequent settlement in 2015, Majestic Dairy, like others around the state, continues to violate federal laws by polluting groundwater with excess nutrients, causing nitrate contamination of neighbors' drinking water wells far over the federal safety levels. Because dairies must continuously get rid of the massive amount of waste generated by the livestock, soil testing by Majestic Dairy reveals a gross over-application of waste to fields that do not need fertilization, in violation of RCRA. In addition to nitrate contamination of groundwater and drinking water, the soils at this dairy test positive for excessive phosphorus levels which contaminates ground and surface waters, leading to nutrient blooms in surface water that starves fish and other aquatic species of oxygen.
"People who live in the Lower Yakima Valley should be able to drill domestic wells and access potable water, just like people in other parts of the valley and Washington State. Nitrates are simply a marker for pollution. Where there are nitrates there are frequently other, even more dangerous pollutants. Our goal here is clean water for everyone," said Jean Mendoza, executive director of the Friends of Toppenish Creek.
"Neighbors in the Lower Yakima Valley have suffered with factory dairy pollution for too long, while the state and federal governments fail to protect their communities," said Amy van Saun, senior attorney with Center for Food Safety and co-counsel for the groups. "Factory dairies like Majestic externalize their significant public health and environmental costs to the people of Washington, and the Lower Yakima Valley is one of the most concentrated areas of the state. No one deserves to have their health and standard of living sacrificed for cheap dairy, and we will continue to enforce the law until the Washington dairy industry cleans up its act."
In addition to Tebbutt, CARE, Friends of Toppenish Creek and the Center for Food Safety are represented by the Terrell Marshall Law Group, PLLC and the Law Office of Andrea Rodgers, both in Seattle, Washington.
To view the Notice of Intent to Sue letter, please click here.