Dairy producers have their own water quality issues

Issue Date: June 25, 2008
Ching Lee

Like other farms and ranches, California dairies are facing increasing scrutiny about the potential impact their operations have on water quality. They're now being hit with even tougher regulations. And like other farms, dairies for many years were covered under a waiver for discharging waste to land, until that ended in 2003.

The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, which oversees a region with the highest population of dairies in the state, initially attempted to adopt a waiver for dairies similar to the Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program for farmers, but the move was challenged by environmentalists, who wanted a more rigorous regulatory program.

In May 2007, the regional board adopted new dairy "waste discharge requirements" that impose stringent nutrient management and monitoring practices on the region's more than 1,600 dairies.

Unlike the Irrigrated Lands waiver, where farmers have the option of joining a coalition and sharing monitoring and other regulatory fees, dairy producers must file individually with the regional board and bear all the costs themselves, said Paul Sousa, environmental specialist for Western United Dairymen.

"Each individual dairy is doing all of the sampling on their own, and they're paying for it. So these dairy producers are much more aware of the process and costs associated with this," he said. "There are substantial costs to each dairy producer."

In the Chino Basin, home to 300 dairies with more than 350,000 cows, the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board several years ago developed a general permit restricting dairies from applying their waste to land areas.

The North Coast region is also currently developing some regulations for dairies and looking closely at what the Central Valley region has done, Sousa noted.

"So the regulations of the Central Valley could very well have an impact or be a driver for other regions," he said.

Producers in the Central Valley must meet a July 1 deadline for when they must submit an annual report of their operations to the regional board. The report must include their nutrient and waste management plans as well as offer solutions to how they can control waste discharges from their property.

"The dairy industry is trying really hard," Sousa said. "There are a lot of things that need to be done. There are a lot of costs, but the dairy industry is really trying to comply."

(Ching Lee is a reporter for Ag Alert. She may be contacted at clee@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.