Dairymen Deal With Waste Management

The EPA is cracking down on dairymen who violate environmental regulations and the penalty can range from a stiff fine or jail time. Short courses are being held throughout the state to help dairymen cope with excess water left behind by El Niņo storms and to help prevent violations.

The University of California Cooperative Extension in cooperation with the California Farm Bureau, Milk Producers Council, and Western United Dairymen hosted an Environmental Stewardship Short Course for dairymen in Fresno and Madera Counties recently. The course was just one of many that will be held throughout the state in the near future. Deanne Meyer and Jerry Higginbotham of the UCCE taught the course held at Caruthers High School. Dairymen filled the room to listen to strategies for implementing environmental-friendly waste management.

The objective of the educational program is to increase the awareness of dairy operators and associated individuals to the potential impacts of manure management practices on ground and surface water resources. Meyer and Higginbotham say that a successful program will improve the awareness and knowledge of dairy operators to accomplish manure management while achieving regulatory compliance.

The short course reviewed pertinent laws related to manure management along with water quality; calculated storage needs for dairy waste and discussed pollution prevention.

Three classes will be held to complete the desired outcome, and homework was assigned for the next class meeting. The second class will focus on developing a farm pollution prevention plan. The third and last class will focus on evaluating nutrients in manure.

A focal point of this program is to inform dairymen of the importance of complying with the Clean Water Act. If the dairyman does not comply with the Clean Water Act, the EPA may file an administrative or court action to obtain civil penalties from the illegal discharge of wastewater. Violations of the Clean Water Act can also result in a criminal prosecution under certain circumstances. For negligent violations, criminal fines range from $2,500 to $25,000 per day of violation or the discharger could receive a prison term of one year.

If a dairyman knowingly violates the Clean Water Act, criminal fines range from $5,000 to $50,000 per day of violation and/or a prison term of three years.

Specific concerns related to lagoons or ponds are that they are sealed and do not leak. Problems with ponds in other states have led to an increased focus in California on structural maintenance of sidewalls and bottoms.

Pond water and the nutrients contained in the water that leach into the soil is what the EPA is most concerned with. The leaching of nitrate-nitrogen is a main concern. If the wastewater was to leach through the soil and into the groundwater, all who drink water from that area of concentration would be at risk.

Drinking water should not contain nitrate-nitrogen amounts higher than 10 milligrams per liter that is the federal and state drinking water level. Infants, adults, and young livestock are susceptible to health risks if exposed to high levels of nitrate containing water.

Preventing the problem of ground and surface water contamination can be difficult. What may prove to be a good practice for runoff prevention can lead to standing water leaching through to the groundwater. An example of this could be a manure pile strategically placed in a low spot, if water were to accumulate at the site then the nutrients could seep through to the groundwater.

Meyer, who is a Livestock Waste Management Specialist with the University of California, Davis, says that manure management starts with the feed, by choosing rations that contain low levels of potential contaminants, such as an over abundance of certain minerals that may leave residues in the manure and infiltrate into the soil.

Meyer stressed that better manure management will reduce the risk of groundwater contamination which will lead to the pollution of drinking water. "Wastewater is often over-applied to fields as fertilizer," said Meyer. "This can lead to high amounts of nitrate found in the soil and water table. You need to monitor the amount of wastewater applied to ensure that you will not be contributing to groundwater contamination."

Reprint from:  Central Valley Farmer, Vol. 5, No. 6, April 16, 1998

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