A ruling in Washington earlier this month defining dairy manure as “solid waste” could mean tighter regulations and lawsuits against Kings County dairies, according to sources in the industry.
In the ruling, federal court Judge Thomas Rice found that the Cow Palace Dairy, an 11,000-cow operation in Washington, over-applied manure as fertilizer on its cropland. In addition, Rice determined that the excess manure that couldn’t be absorbed by the crops could be regulated under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, a law covering solid and hazardous waste that is normally applied to landfills.
While environmentalists hailed the ruling as a landmark, Kings dairy operators and a representative from Western United Dairymen voiced concerns about the fallout for what they say are already heavily regulated dairies in California.
Hanford dairy owner Dino Giacomazzi said that local dairies are already regulated by the State Water Resources Control Board for how much manure and manure water they apply to cropland as fertilizer.
Dairies are required to monitor, manage and report how much fertilizer they apply to crops in an effort to minimize downward percolation into groundwater. Similar regulations were extended to all San Joaquin Valley farmers in 2013 after studies showed long-term nitrate contamination of groundwater is mostly due to agriculture.
Hanford dairy operator Brian Medeiros called it “unfortunate” that the ruling defined manure as a solid waste, akin to human solid waste that goes into a wastewater treatment plant.
Medeiros said there are multiple uses for manure, including as fertilizer, bedding and compost.
“We define it as an asset,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that courts saw it in that light.”
“I don’t know if it’s going to be a big impact, but it obviously can have some sort of impact,” Medeiros added.
Paul Sousa, director of environmental services for Western United Dairymen, said the ruling could lead to more of a “regulatory burden” for dairies.
However, Sousa said that the California regulations already in place might protect local dairies from further lawsuits or limitations.
“The California regulations actually help us on this,” Souza said. “What you are beneficially using as a fertilizer would not fall under the definition of a solid waste.”
Sousa and others industry also offered their thoughts on two lawsuits filed Wednesday in Washington D.C. federal court by environmental groups alleging air pollution by large confined animal feeding operations such as dairies.
The suits allege that dairies and other concentrated livestock operations produce air pollutants such as ammonia that need to be directly regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency the same way that factory smokestacks are regulated.
The Association of Irritated Residents, a San Joaquin Valley air pollution advocacy group, signed on to the lawsuits.
Tom Frantz, a Kern County farmer and president of Association of Irritated Residents, said that existing air pollution on regulations don’t go far enough to curb negative health effects.
“There are a set of rules regulating volatile organic compounds,” Frantz said. “There’s nothing regulating ammonia. The rules need to be made a lot stronger.”
Medeiros said he thinks ammonia is being reduced as a byproduct of the rules dairies have to follow to reduce several volatile organic compounds that contribute to smog formation.
Dairies are required to do a variety of things, such as covering silage piles with plastic and keeping corrals dry, to reduce emissions of the compounds.