Settlement with Factory Farm to Ensure Clean Water for Washington Community
An image from the Ericksen Report, submitted by the plaintiffs in this case.
Public Justice and its allies today secured settlements with four industrial mega-dairies in rural Washington responsible for contaminating groundwater. The settlement will ensure clean drinking water for the surrounding community.
Four Washington State dairies have agreed to implement sweeping changes in their operations following a series of lawsuits brought by the Community Association for Restoration of the Environment (CARE) and Center for Food Safety against the dairies alleging that their mismanagement of manure contaminated water supplies in the Lower Yakima Valley, Washington community. Jessica Culpepper, Food Safety & Health Attorney at Public Justice, served as co-counsel in the case.
Under the terms of the settlement, the dairies will provide clean drinking water to potentially hundreds of households with polluted water and drastically change their operations in ways intended to stop future contamination to the area’s water supply to protect public health and the environment.
Specifically, the dairies must install double liners in all manure lagoons to stop leakage, limit manure applications to crop fields, and make other operational changes. Notably, they will be removing standing water and manure in cow holding pens on a weekly basis to prevent cows from living in knee-deep manure and standing water, which will improve animal health and welfare. They will also be subject to additional groundwater monitoring and be responsible for providing clean water to area residents until the contamination is eliminated.
“Today’s settlement means these mega-dairies will, quite literally, have to clean up their act. It also shows that, with the right systems in place, this industry can operate in a way that better protects public health and the environment in communities where they operate,” Culpepper said.
“It sends a clear message to others that communities can and will fight back if a factory farm contaminates their water, with the law on their side, to protect their families and their water supply,” she added.
The settlement follows a January ruling by Judge Thomas Rice in the Eastern District of Washington that found Cow Palace’s practice of storing millions of gallons of manure in unlined lagoons, and its years of overapplication of manure onto crop fields contaminated the community’s well water when the manure leaked through the soil into the aquifer below. Cow Palace is one of the four dairies included in today’s settlement.
“We settled in order to get immediate help to the people directly in harm’s way,” said CARE co-founder and President Helen Reddout. “People in the impacted zone will now have safe alternative water until the groundwater poisons go away, which could be a long time. We want people to know that it is not safe to drink nitrate-contaminated water, and to contact the Yakima County Department of Health about contaminated wells so we can make sure they get safe drinking water. It is now time for the responsible agencies to stop the rest of dairies in the Valley from causing pollution.”
“This is an important precedent holding mega-dairy factories responsible for the environmental and human health impacts of their waste,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director at Center for Food Safety. “They will now have to dispose of their toxic waste in a responsible manner and under stricter EPA supervision.”
“This settlement takes the animal factory industry from the Dark Ages into the Age of Enlightenment, while providing important relief to the impacted community,” said Charlie Tebbutt, lead attorney for the plaintiffs. “The industry must still evolve to a higher level of consciousness and this settlement provides a huge improvement in daily operations. State and federal agencies must now use this settlement as a stepping stone toward providing permanent solutions for protecting human health and the environment from an industry that is causing severe pollution nationwide.”
In addition to Public Justice’s Jessica Culpepper, CARE and Center for Food Safety were represented by Charlie Tebbutt and Dan Snyder of the Law Offices of Charlie Tebbutt in Eugene, Ore., Eli Holmes and George Kimbrell of Center for Food Safety in Washington, D.C., Public Justice Board Member Beth Terrell, Toby Marshall and Blythe Chandler of Terrell Marshall Daudt & Willie PLLC in Seattle, Wash., and Public Justice Board Member Brad J. Moore of Stritmatter Kessler Whelan, in Seattle, Wash.
Below is a list of exhibits from today’s consent decree detailing the terms of the settlement: