Royal City dairy contaminated water, judge rules

YAKIMA — A federal judge has ruled that an Eastern Washington industrial dairy that has been the subject of air and water pollution complaints for years consistently applied excessive amounts of manure to neighboring fields, causing or contributing to groundwater contamination in the area.

The community action group CARE, Community Association for Restoration of the Environment, claimed that Nelson Faria Dairy violated the Clean Water Act and other environmental laws and failed to abide by the terms of a deal that was reached with the dairy’s previous owners to improve operations.

The dairy in Royal City, about 45 miles northeast of Yakima, has more than 3,000 cows and consists of four large barns, several lagoons and multiple feedlots.

U.S. District Judge Lonny R. Suko ruled Dec. 30 that the dairy failed to operate with a Clean Water Act permit and had committed numerous violations of the settlement agreement.

“Faria’s manure management practices have caused or significantly contributed to the excessive nitrate contamination of the local groundwater, as observed and documented by CARE’s monitoring wells,” Suko wrote.

Large, industrial dairies are polluting water, land and air, CARE President Helen Reddout said in a statement Thursday, and having a federal judge hold this operation accountable for their actions “should send a message to the entire industry in Washington and elsewhere.”

John Ray Nelson, lawyer for Nelson Faria Dairy, declined to comment on the ruling because the judge has not yet issued a remedial order to correct conditions at the dairy.

The Faria family owns and leases several dairies in New Mexico, Washington and Texas, including a 7,000-cow operation in Dumas, Texas, that employs one of the largest milking facilities in the country.

CARE initially filed the lawsuit in 2004 against Smith Brothers of Kent. Nelson Faria purchased the Royal City dairy from Smith Brothers for $16 million in 2006 and was obligated to operate the dairy under the terms of the settlement.

CARE had sought a five-year extension of the agreement regulating the dairy’s operations, but the judge extended it for three years in last week’s ruling. Suko also ordered the dairy to pay CARE’s attorney fees.

Gary Christensen, a farmer who grows vegetables, fruit and some grains near the dairy, is a CARE member who has documented the dairy’s operations for the past few years.

“We want to work with the dairy to address the issues of groundwater contamination, odors and over-application of manure to fields,” he said in a CARE statement.

CARE has filed similar lawsuits against other large dairies in the Yakima Valley, where nitrogen-rich fertilizers, manure and leaking septic systems are among the potential causes of excessive levels of nitrates in groundwater. Last fall, the Washington Department of Ecology approved about $300,000 to help Yakima County develop a groundwater management program to address the problem.

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