New rules, Big headaches.
Bert Wilgenburg has worked for years to develop an environmentally sound nutrient management plan at his Hanford, Calif., dairy. This year, other California dairies will be doing the same. Each of the 1,600 Central Valley dairies face new Waste Discharge Requirements (WDRs) that were handed down by the California Regional Water Quality Control Board in May. "I'm not intimidated by this, but I am discouraged by the proposed requirements for groundwater monitoring that most likely will not provide any economic benefits," Wilgenburg says. "The initial step to get baseline information is probably necessary. We need to know where we are." Four years in the making and 128 pages long, the five-year general order is designed to protect the valley's ground and surface waters. It marks the first time that all dairies in the Central Valley have come under a formal regulatory process. The complex rules call for: Record-keeping for crop manure application, including timing, amounts and testing of soil and plant tissue. Documenting flood control and prevention measures. Possibly installing groundwater monitoring wells with regular testing.
The water quality board estimates per-dairy compliance costs at $45,000 to $65,000 initially and $35,000 to $45,000 annually. The order focuses on production areas and land application sites. It targets illegal discharge of manure on site, or of manure or contaminated water off site.
Monitoring groundwater wells "is not required of all facilities at the beginning and may or may not be required of all facilities by the end," says Dr. Deanne Meyer, livestock waste management specialist with the University of California-Davis.
Groundwater monitoring, Wilgenburg says, makes sense for areas with shallow groundwater wells but not for many dairies.
Groundwater in his area lies 100' below the surface and remains clean. His dairy, which milks 2,200 cows, has adjacent cropland, clay-lined pits and a well-developed manure management system.
"If you're not likely to contaminate groundwater and already have a sound nutrient-management plan, maybe there's no need to throw $50,000 at monitoring," Wilgenburg says.
Well monitoring is just one part of the new WDR order.
"Record-keeping, documentation and submittal of annual reports are all big components of the new regime," Meyer says. "Applying solid or liquid manure to be protective of groundwater-and not just because the pond is full-is going to be a big deal."
Meyer is working with dairy organizations like the California Dairy Quality Assurance (CDQA) Program to help producers with the order. "Our objective is to achieve compliance through education," Meyer says. "We have a very steep learning curve for folks over the next few years. The first deadline, in December, will be a big one."
By Dec. 31, 2007, all dairies must submit an Existing Conditions Report, which will include a preliminary dairy facility assessment and a map of the dairy with specific items listed. "The preliminary dairy facility assessment is a rough cut at nutrient balance, as well as at estimating if existing storage capacity for liquid manure is sufficient," Meyer says.
A series of other required actions will be phased in by 2012.
Producers who don't submit documents or who falsify documents face a misdemeanor penalty with civil financial liability that can be turned over to the attorney general's office for prosecution.
"Producers should also know that all records submitted to the water board are public and available to anyone who walks in the door," Meyer says. "Lots of information needs to be turned in, calculated, submitted and maintained on the dairy. Organization of paperwork will be key."
The CDQA Program will hold workshops throughout Central Valley during October and November to educate producers about the new rules.
Western United Dairymen has launched a new organization to provide environmental expertise to producers "who are finding themselves overwhelmed with a flood of environmental regulations," such as the new WDRs, says CEO Michael Marsh. EP The hard realities of California dairying Will California's dairy industry survive its latest challenge of tough environmental regulations?
"We believe it can, but it's essential for all sides to face certain realities," says Bill Van Dam, chairman of the Community Alliance for Responsible Environmental Stewardship, a California coalition of dairy organizations.
Reality No. 1, he says, is that doing business in California requires accepting the tougher environmental laws and pressure from growing urbanization. The state's dairies must continue to find practical, efficient and cost-effective ways to meet the new standards.
Reality No. 2 is for critics of California dairies to "give it a rest." Anti-dairy groups are already petitioning to overturn the new water quality rules. "It's time to recognize the California dairy sector's tremendous efforts to protect the environment, and to publicly reject these unwarranted, misguided attacks," Van Dam says.
Reality No. 3 is that cooperation works. "While it's never fun or easy to be regulated, it's important for us all to understand that the dairy sector did not oppose development of these new regulations," he says.
The state's dairy industry, working through its environmental issues coalition, assembled a large team of water-quality experts, engineers and agronomists to comment on the regulations. The industry insisted on science-based rules and a five-year phase-in to allow producers time to make necessary changes.
"California dairying has changed greatly," Van Dam says. "There is no going back. However, by recognizing the realities of operating in our nation's most populous state, insisting on sound science and demanding that policymakers recognize our efforts, California dairy producers can remain leaders well into the future while protecting the environment we all share."
Brave new world
Waste Discharge Requirements (WDR) are designed to protect ground and surface waters. The five-year order affects all 1,600 dairies in California's Central Valley. Software to assist filing WDR reports is available at www.co.merced.ca.us/ EnvironmentalHealthWM/.