Greens Ask NY to Crack Down on Dairy Farms

ALBANY, N.Y. (CN) — Cows, whose methane-emitting flatulence has been cited as a culprit in global warming, now are being blamed, along with New York’s State Department of Environmental Conservation, for contaminating the state’s water supply with manure.

Riverkeeper and four other groups, including fly fishers and the Sierra Club, sued the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation in Albany County Supreme Court, demanding it strengthen a general water permit for large farm operations to bring it into compliance with the Clean Water Act.

As many as 267 industrial dairies covered by state permitting have more than 200 cows and “a history or likelihood of discharging to surface waters,” according to the March 27 complaint.

An average dairy cow produces more than 120 pounds of manure per day, so the average large industrial dairy in New York, with 950 cows, produces more than 110,000 pounds of animal waste per day: “more waste than every city in New York other than New York City,” according to the complaint.

By contrast, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, an average household of four people produces about one pound of sewage waste per day.

However, human waste is treated year round — cow manure is not.

“Dairy cow sewage, by contrast, is usually held in lagoons until it is spread on fields,” the complaint states.

Those “massive lagoons” are generally not lined and the waste gets no significant treatment it is spread onto fields.

Industrial dairies have been responsible for numerous water contamination fiascos in New York State, according to the complaint.

“A discharge from one industrial facility caused a 25-by-75 foot plume of liquid manure to enter Lake Owasco, a source of drinking water for 44,000 residents in central New York,” the complaint states.

The plaintiffs say they have many more documented examples.

They ask the court to order New York to strengthen its general permitting for industrial farms. They say the U.S. EPA warned the state when it was drafting the permit that it did not comply with the Clean Water Act.

The EPA wrote the state as recently as March 10 to advise it of “continued permit deficiencies with respect to ‘transparency, state oversight, and opportunities for public participation’ and recommending that DEC revise the permit.”

The Clean Water Act requires that medium and large industrial farms with a history of discharging into nearby waters be “subject to a permit that contains important enforceable safety restrictions, is reviewed and approved by impartial state experts, and is available to the public, including nearby residents.”

The plaintiffs say New York’s permit does not meet those standards.

The other plaintiffs are the Cortland-Onondaga Federation of Kettle Lake Associations, Theodore Flyfishers, and the Waterkeeper Alliance.

Their lead attorney is Eve Gartner, with Earthjustice in New York City.

The average dairy cow can emit 200 to 450 liters of methane per day, through farts and burps, according to cow flatulence publications.

Yes, there are such things.

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