Washington state dairies settle over manure management practices

A settlement has been reached in a federal lawsuit against three Yakima Valley dairies in Washington state found to be posing an imminent threat to public health because of their manure-management practices.

Chief among the conditions: The dairies have agreed to double line their manure-storage lagoons and distribute bottled water or reverse-osmosis filters to a wider swath of neighboring residents than they already had been doing under previous binding agreements. Attorneys for both sides said the changes could set a national precedent for the operation of dairies and other concentrated animal feeding operations.

A Eugene, Ore., attorney representing an environmental group in the case hopes this case ushers in a whole new era, while the attorney for the dairies expects others to follow suit and predicts the new practices will become the standard.

The May 11 settlement closes a lawsuit filed in February 2013 in U.S. District Court by the environmental group and the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Food Safety against five dairies north of Sunnyside and Granger in the Lower Yakima Valley, a diverse agricultural region known for tree fruit, wine grapes and hops, as well as milk.

As the case progressed, one dairy family closed and sold off its holdings while two others combined for purposes of the trial. Though they admit no wrongdoing, the dairies agreed to double line their lagoons with both a geosynthetic clay liner and synthetic liner at least 40 mils thick, fund a clean water delivery program to residents with contaminated wells, build concrete aprons around water troughs and other measures.

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