4,500 Washingtonians Submit Comments to Gov. Inslee, Ecology Calling for Stronger CAFO Permit, Drinking Water Protections

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John Rumpler

Clean Water Director and Senior Attorney, Environment America

Environment Washington

SEATTLE— Today 4,500 Washingtonians submitted comments to Gov. Inslee and the Department of Ecology (Ecology) calling for stronger state pollution controls for concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs. Untreated manure from CAFOs is contaminating drinking water supplies and waterways across Washington with bacteria and nitrates, which can cause birth defects and other health consequences.

“Every Washingtonian deserves clean drinking water,” said Ellicott Dandy with OneAmerica. “But too many communities in Washington state are being poisoned with toxic nitrates from manure pollution. Worse yet, the Washington communities in the Lower Yakima Valley who are impacted the most already face a multitude of socioeconomic and public health burdens that make this threat especially potent. We need action from Gov. Inslee and the Department of Ecology, but what they have proposed so far is weak and inadequate.”

Ecology is responsible for administering a general permit for CAFOs to protect water from manure pollution from animal facilities. Ecology issued a draft permit earlier this summer and accepted public comments until Wednesday, August 31.

CAFOs in Washington state generate millions of pounds of manure, significant amounts of which are stored in unlined manure lagoons and over-applied to farmland. If this untreated waste isn’t managed properly, it pollutes our waterways, closes our shellfish beds, and worst of all, contaminates our drinking water supplies, putting public health at risk.

More than 20 percent of wells used for drinking water in the Lower Yakima Valley exceed the EPA’s maximum contaminant level for nitrates. Twenty-nine percent of sampled wells in the Sumas Blaine Aquifer, the drinking water source for up to 27,000 people in Whatcom County, exceed the maximum contaminant level for nitrates. Manure pollution has also been cited as a leading cause of recent shellfish bed closures in Puget Sound.

The draft permit issued by Ecology failed to accept the vast majority of the recommendations filed in late 2015 by community organizations, environmental groups, and citizens. The draft permit lacks clear and enforceable limits on pollution, ground and surface water testing, and a requirement to use cost-effective technology, such as synthetically-lined manure lagoons, which would dramatically reduce pollution.

“Washingtonians are making their voices heard and it’s not surprising that they want our waterways and drinking water protected. The only question is whether Gov. Inslee and his Department of Ecology listen to the people, or to powerful agricultural special interest lobbyists, who want a weak, voluntary approach to managing this pollution,” said Chris Wilke, Puget Soundkeeper.

Ecology is expected to issue a final permit for CAFOs sometime later this fall.


The Campaign for Clean and Safe Drinking Water Coalition includes the Center for Food Safety, Citizens for Sustainable Development, Environment Washington, Friends of Toppenish Creek, OneAmerica, Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho, Progreso: Latino Progress, Puget Soundkeeper, RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, Sierra Club, Washington Environmental Council, and the Western Environmental Law Center.