“The science is settled, “that’s what a WA Dept. of Ecology representative said at a recent meeting in Colville with Stevens County Farm Bureau members dairy farmers and local government representatives. He was referring to a rule revision currently under consideration by the department which would force local family owned dairies to replace their existing waste water and manure lagoons with a costly new system employing a liner often criticized by many industry professionals.
According the repeated assertions made by the Ecology rep the rule change was really not up for discussion, essentially the new rule would require existing dairy owners to admit that their lagoons leak and that they therefore pollute ground water. If after making this admission local farmers could establish that the pollution “wasn’t that bad “then Ecology could potentially offer them a waiver. When asked if Ecology had performed testing in Stevens County to determine if in fact local lagoons leaked or were releasing dangerous substances into the water, the answer was simply, “No.” So without testing local lagoons or water supplies or providing scientific evidence that pollution was happening, this Agency Representative was asking our local dairies to admit they were guilty and to commit to making changes that could cost more than $600 per cow.
Science is a process wherein one makes an observation, develops a theory related to the observation, conducts an experiment to “test” the theory and then after reviewing the data from the test, the theory is adjusted accordingly and the process begins anew. By nature, science is never settled, it is always questioning, it is always testing it is always asking “what if”. If Ecology theorizes that local lagoons are leaking pollutants, but has not conducted tests to verify that theory, then the methods they are employing would seem to be out of compliance with the requirements of the scientific method.
The majority of our local dairy farmers have used the latest scientific research to construct their lagoons to rigorous Federal standards. Current lagoons have been engineered, constructed and tested beyond the level of most commercial and industrial practices in our region. Some national engineers even criticized the practices suggested by Ecology’s new rule pointing out that large wildlife like Elk and Moose or the random Cow may wander into a lined lagoon as proposed by Ecology and cause failure. This same large animal visit in the lagoons currently employed in Stevens County would cause limited or no damage.
No operation is perfect, but good farmers are constantly looking for better ways to improve their operations. Instead of suggesting that everyone in the room was guilty of pollution, without having stepped on a single local farm, perhaps Ecology should recognize that the majority of the farmers in the state are not the problem. Through painting everyone with the same dirty brush without real scientific evaluation agencies risk alienating their retest allies in environmental stewardship that is the farmers themselves.
Less than a week after the Colville meeting, the same Ecology representative testified before a State Senate Committee and indicated that they were backing down from some of the more extreme statements made earlier. The Rule-making process is on-going, but it would seem that Ecology may be including small dairy exemptions in the final rule, thus acknowledging that dairies like those in Stevens County are not a part of the problem they are seeking to address. There is also the possibility that the new rule may require scientific testing of a suspect lagoon and potentially impacted water sources before declaring a site as guilty of leaking pollutants.
People often ask if it’s possible to make a difference anymore. Time will tell, but maybe the discussions Farm Bureau members had with this Ecology Representative, may had encouraged them to take a more scientific and less Faith Based approach in this case.
Perhaps the Science isn’t settled…..
Written By SCFB Board Member: John Smith