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Public Health and Clean Water Advocates Call on New York State to Offer Better Protections Against Pollution from Industrial Dairies


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 15, 2016

CONTACT: Michael Dulong, Riverkeeper, (973) 986-5633

Public Health and Clean Water Advocates Call on New York State to Offer Better Protections Against Pollution from Industrial Dairies

Coalition demands end to practice of manure spreading during frozen conditions, strict protections and monitoring to prevent groundwater contamination, and public review of individual waste management plans

Albany, NY – Concerned about a rash of drinking water contamination events caused by manure from large-scale industrial dairies in New York State, a coalition of public health and environmental organizations, including Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Environmental Advocates of New York, Earthjustice, Riverkeeper, Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter, Theodore Gordon Flyfishers, and Waterkeeper Alliance requested crucial improvements to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s (“DEC”) water quality protection permit for industrial-sized livestock facilities known as “concentrated animal feeding operations” (“CAFOs”).

New York is the country’s fourth largest milk-producing state with more than 600,000 dairy cows, each of which produces over 100 pounds of waste per day. And the way this staggering amount of manure is stored and disposed of has serious implications for human health and water quality. DEC has sought comments on proposed permits that will regulate how CAFOs dispose of their manure so it does not contaminate our drinking water, and pollute our lakes, rivers, and streams.

The common CAFO practice of spreading manure on fields during the winter when no crops are growing has no agricultural benefit and, with inevitable spring rain and snowmelt, has led to over forty surface water and groundwater contamination events in recent years, posing dangerous health risks. The coalition has called on DEC to prohibit winter spreading activities, which the agency has determined are “very risky,” and set minimum levels of waste storage capacity so that all the manure generated over the winter can be stored rather than spread.

The coalition has also called on DEC to:
Adopt a clear and accessible public participation process whenever a CAFO applies for permit coverage or significantly modifies its operations.

  • Implement all best practices recommended by New York’s leading agriculture experts to protect groundwater.
  • Place more stringent controls on manure spreading in areas with porous karst geology.
  • Mandate that all new waste storage lagoons be constructed with a liner separating wastes and soil.
  • Require yearly soil sampling and monitoring of groundwater, especially in sensitive environmental areas.

These cost-effective safeguards will promote sustainable farming practices and fair competition. The coalition seeks to work collaboratively with DEC to implement these measures, consistent with our shared goal to ensure CAFOs operate in a safe and sustainable manner as New York’s agricultural industry continues to grow.

“Untreated animal waste is as dangerous as raw sewage,” said Riverkeeper Staff Attorney Michael Dulong. “We need DEC to implement these practical pollution control measures to get a handle on the rampant agricultural discharges that are contaminating waters across the state. Anything less would jeopardize the health of New Yorkers and leave farmers on the hook for the contamination.”

Liz Moran, water and natural resources associate at Environmental Advocates of New York said, “Properly stored and utilized cow manure is important to the sustainability and growth of the agriculture industry — but improperly spread manure can unleash wildlife-killing nitrates as well as pathogens that place people’s health at risk. The bond between clean water and public health has been on the forefront of public discourse, and Governor Cuomo and the DEC can take a stand by taking the common-sense action to end winter spreading.”

“Recent events in Flint, Michigan have demonstrated that when residents raise concerns about the quality of their water supply, government and regulatory agencies don’t always listen or take them seriously,” said Erin Riddle, Chair of the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter. “We hear from residents in rural communities and nearby municipalities who live with the impact of industrial animal farming, and have demanded that something be done to protect our waterways.  So far the response has been disappointing. We hope this will change through this new round of regulatory reform.”

“It is time for DEC to take decisive action to stop dairy industry pollution of New York’s drinking water supplies and private groundwater wells,” said Kelly Foster, Senior Attorney at Waterkeeper Alliance, “The pollution will continue until DEC brings its permits in line with the law and modern science-based agricultural practices.”

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