WA State Department of Ecology Proposes Huge Cut



Olympia, WA - The state's dairy inspection program could be a victim of the spending crunch as agencies scour their budgets for savings.

Department of Ecology officials said Monday they have proposed cutting the $1.25 million, eight-person program in response to Gov. Gary Locke's call for agency cuts.

"Given the severity of the budget situation, there is no way to avoid cutting programs," said Leslie Thorpe, spokeswoman for water quality at Ecology in Olympia.

"This is one program, unfortunately, that will have real environmental consequences," Thorpe said.

Locke proposes his budget today, which must close a shortfall of at least $2 billion. His office has said the budget proposal will contain deep cuts.

Legislators will take their stab at balancing the books in the session that begins Jan. 13. A final budget isn't likely to be agreed upon until March or April.

Under the 1998 Dairy Nutrient Management Act, milk producers are supposed to put a waste-management plan into effect by Dec. 31, 2003. In the plans, individual dairies are to detail how waste is contained or transferred to avoid run-off or leaching.

Dairies have been eligible for up to $50,000 from the Washington State Conservation Commission to formulate the plans. Thorpe said she did not know how many dairies have come up with plans.

A nutrient in waste parlance is manure. Bacterial pollution from animal waste is present in 280 lakes, streams and rivers in Washington, Thorpe said.

"The loss of the program would remove Ecology's inspection of those plans," Mark Wasemiller, dairy engineer at the South Yakima Conservation District in Sunnyside, said. The district supplies technical assistance to conserve natural resources on private land.

Thorpe said it is too early to say what would happen to those plans since the program's final fate won't be known until a new budget is drawn.

Lawyers at the Environmental Law Center in Eugene, Ore., which brought suit against two dairy farmers on behalf of Outlook-based Community Association for the Restoration of the Environment, or CARE, did not return phone messages Monday. The lawsuits have been settled.

The dairy industry says it has worked hard to come into compliance with the state law and would not like to see the program dropped.

"We are for all intents and purposes, with a few small exceptions, at perfect compliance," Jay Gordon, executive director of the Washington State Dairy Federation, said. The federation has 628 members.

"We believe some form of inspection and enforcement is necessary and so we would hate to go backwards at this point," Gordon said.

Lawmakers came up with the nutrient management plan after the federal government determined that existing oversight was inadequate and threatened to take action. In one Yakima River drainage area near Granger, levels of fecal coliform bacteria from manure reached 15 times the state limit.

The Ecology Department has been working with dairies to bring the Granger Drain into compliance with the Clean Water Act.

The Granger Drain collects runoff water from 18,000 irrigated acres between Granger and Outlook. The Granger Drain, like others in the Yakima Valley, collects irrigation water that has run off the ends of fields and returns the water to the river. The area also contains more than 40,000 dairy cows.

In 1997, levels of fecal coliform bacteria in the drain routinely topped 1,500 colonies of bacteria per 100 milliliters of water. The state limit is 100 colonies.

State officials say progress has been made in the Granger Drain but that irrigators have not yet met federal water-quality guidelines. Now, not only is cow waste still reaching the drain, but there is evidence of wildlife and human fecal coliform.

Generally, more than a third of all samples have indicated the source was cow waste while 11 percent were from humans.

If the state's program is cut, Wasemiller said the federal government likely would step in, and he noted it has strict standards. The Environmental Protection Agency, for example, can make unannounced inspections while the state has no such authority.

Gordon said state oversight is preferable to federal regulation, which he said can be more adversarial.

"EPA will step in if the state steps out, we've checked," he said.

The Bush administration Monday issued a final rule on industrial and agricultural water pollution. The new rule requires all large concentrated animal feeding operations to apply for a permit to control pollution under the Clean Water Act.

Washington ranks eighth in the nation in total milk production. Whatcom County has 195 dairies. Yakima County produces the most milk, however, with 84 dairies.

In pounds of milk produced, Yakima County and Whatcom County rank 13th and 14th respectively in the top dairy counties in the U.S.


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