A conflict in New Mexico is shaping up as a pitched battle between industrial dairy’s desire to avoid regulation and the public’s right to clean, safe drinking water. According to the state environment department, at least two-thirds of the groundwater underneath or adjacent to New Mexico’s dairy CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) has been poisoned by nitrates. When other pollutants are included, estimates of water contamination by these factory farms can rise as high as 90 percent. No wonder New Mexico’s legislature voted to have regulations drawn up to prevent groundwater pollution by the state’s dairy farms.
After extensive review that included hearing from industry lobbyists, environmental advocates and citizens groups, the state proposed regulations that would, for the first time, require dairy farms to apply for waste discharge permits. Permit applications would have to include information on the depth and flow of groundwater under the farm, the amount of waste that would be disposed, and how water quality would be monitored to guard against contamination. Naturally, state and national dairy lobbying groups are up in arms, screaming that the regulations have no basis in sound science. That is perhaps not surprising, given the industry’s claim that milk comes ' not from filthy, crowded torture chambers ' from the magical land of Mootopia.
A similar battle is brewing in California’s Central Valley according to Food & Water Watch, where hearings are expected to take place this summer on whether the regional water quality control board should improve its groundwater testing program near the area’s dairy CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations). As things stand, the board does not test for E. coli or other obvious potential contaminants such as the antibiotics and hormones used in massive quantities on these factory farms, which pose major threats to the environment and to human health. Elanor Starmer of Food & Water Watch notes, "There is a wealth of literature documenting the potential for these contaminants to reach and contaminate groundwater." Starmer is testifying this week in Santa Fe at public hearings on the proposed regulations.
Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, where last year animal waste contaminated more than 100 wells in a single town, the legislature is considering a bill that would allow the state’s Department of Natural Resources to set limits for how much animal manure can be spread on fields in areas with porous limestone karst that makes it easy for the waste to seep down and spoil the groundwater. Those areas include Brown County, which has 15 dairy CAFOs with more than 1,000 cows each, and where many residents drink bottled water to avoid well water contaminated by manure. Wisconsin Senator Dave Hansen of Green Bay, who introduced the bill, expects a hearing to be scheduled this spring.