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Justin Taylor

Scott Dye
Ken Kramer

 

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For Immediate Release (Tuesday, July 1, 2003):

Sierra Club Details Water Quality Violations by Industrial Dairies

Texas Environmental Agency Criticized for Lax Regulation

(Austin/Waco)—The Texas Water Sentinels Project of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club released a report today detailing a lengthy history of violations of water quality laws and permits by industrial dairy operations in the Leon River and Bosque River watersheds of Central Texas. The report, entitled Murky Waters: Industrial Dairies & the Failure to Regulate, criticizes the state’s major environmental regulatory agency, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), for failing to provide strong enforcement of water quality protections against these concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) – which house thousands of head of cattle and produce enormous volumes of animal wastes. The Sierra Club is calling for a moratorium on state permits for new or expanded dairy CAFOs in the two watersheds that drain into Lake Waco and Lake Belton, the sole drinking water supplies for hundreds of thousands of Central Texans, until mechanisms are put into place to restore and protect water quality in these watersheds.

"These dairy CAFOs produce vast amounts of waste, estimated at 360 million pounds per year in the two watersheds, which is equivalent to the sewage produced by a city of 2.5 million people," said Justin Taylor, Project Director for the Texas Water Sentinels Campaign. "That’s comparable to a city larger than Houston producing its sewage in these watersheds, without the benefit of any waste treatment. During rains, this untreated waste often runs off of some facilities and into adjacent streams due to improper waste management practices, including over-application of solid and liquid waste to fields, and leaking or overflowing waste lagoons, which hold millions of gallons of highly concentrated liquefied manure."

"Nationally," said Scott Dye, Director of the Sierra Club National Water Sentinels Program, "the problem is enormous in scope – America’s animal production industries produce 1.4 billion tons of animal waste annually, about 5 tons of waste for every man, woman, and child in the U.S. According to the U.S. EPA, over 35,000 miles of rivers in 22 states are contaminated with livestock waste. Industrial dairies…are a major contributor to the problems nationally. One adult dairy cow produces approximately 3.5 cubic feet of wastes per day – or about 100 pounds of wastes per day."

Texas Water Sentinels Director Taylor, chief author of the report, conducted an extensive audit of the permit files at TCEQ for a sample of approximately one-fourth of the industrial dairies in the Leon and Bosque River watersheds. As noted in the report, these "records audits revealed a disturbing pattern of serious, recurring violations, including overflowing waste lagoons, waste discharges into streams and onto neighboring property, overapplication of wastes and sludge to disposal fields, failure to provide proper engineering certifications for waste facilities, and the incomplete and improper disposal of dead animals." Compliance histories of 14 of the diary CAFOs are detailed in the report and are accessible through the Sierra Club website.

"Despite significant evidence that diary CAFOs are the primary contributor to the water quality problems in Central Texas," said Taylor, "TCEQ has continued a rubber-stamp policy of approving all new and expanded permits in the watersheds, allowing the dairy industry to expand virtually unchecked and in violation of the Clean Water Act."

"In addition," said Taylor, "the lack of incentives for compliance with permit conditions has led to continued poor waste management practices by some dairy operators. There are currently only four inspectors for over 180 dairies in the area, and the inspection, complaint investigation, and notice of violation process for dairy operations does not have enforceable consequences." The report notes that TCEQ issues only a minuscule number of "agreed orders" (enforcement orders) compared to the number of notices of violations issued, and that a significant amount of any penalties assessed against the dairies are actually "deferred," resulting in such small fines that they become part of "the cost of doing business." For example, in 2001 (the most recent year for which data was available), only two agreed orders were issued by TCEQ in response to 80 notices of violation by dairies – for a total of $13,125 in penalties.

"The result of this lack of regulation and enforcement," noted Taylor, "has been the continued degradation of surface water quality and impacts to drinking water supplies. Many of these streams are no longer safe for swimming and have become overloaded with nutrients, resulting in algae blooms and depressed oxygen levels which do not support fish."

"Certainly, the industrial dairy problems in the Leon and Bosque watersheds are mirrored elsewhere throughout the country – in southern Michigan, northern Ohio, eastern New Mexico, southeastern Washington state, and Nebraska – to name a few," noted Sierra Club National Water Sentinels Director Dye. "Several of the operators in these various dairy clusters fled California’s Chino Basin area after development pressure and continuing environmental problems forced them to leave. They left in search of cheap land, abundant water, and, most importantly, an accommodating regulatory environment."

Taylor noted the need to replace this "accommodating regulatory environment" for water pollution from industrial dairies in Texas with "enhanced enforcement of existing permit conditions, especially at facilities that have been repeat offenders." The Sierra Club report concludes that: "In the absence of either active TCEQ enforcement and regulation and/or the exercise of restraint and compliance by the dairy industry, the eventual result will be the continued degradation of water quality in Central Texas, the eventual demise of the dairy industry in the area, or both."

The Sierra Club report, Murky Waters: Industrial Dairies & the Failure to Regulate, may be found on-line at www.sierraclub.org/factoryfarms/murkywaters.