Federal Judge Rules Yakima Dairy Guilty of Underground Pollution – Without Concrete Evidence
The lawsuit is one of several filed against Yakima Valley area dairies, and was filed without any definite evidence showing the dairy was directly responsible for high nitrate levels found in the area.
U.S. District Judge Thomas O. Rice of Spokane ruled this week the Cow Palace Dairy of Granger was guilty of polluting groundwater. He wrote the pollution posed an "imminent and substantial danger" to the environment and people who drink the water.
A trial has been scheduled for March 23rd to determine what damage may have been done and what to do about it. According to the Capitol Press online, the civil lawsuit was not even filed with any concrete evidence the dairy's storage and treatment of cow manure was the direct cause of any pollution:
"The civil lawsuit was filed by environmental groups and relied on the likelihood of unlawful pollution, not absolute proof as in criminal cases."
According to the Yakima Herald-Republic, the group filing the suit sought to have it expanded to include several other entities, including businesses related to the dairy and it's production as well as the landowner. The attorney representing the Cow Palace accused the environmental group of playing a "shell game" by attempting to switch and modify the suit in midstream.
Nitrates found in soil can come from a wide variety of sources, anywhere from aging fertilizer from farming operations, to cow manure, to decaying plants and animals. Nitrates are normal, but hugely excessive amounts in drinking water are considered unhealthy. The EPA determined the nitrate levels to be too high, but many EPA studies are questioned for scientific validity.
The group filing the suit, The Community Association for Restoration of the Environment, is essentially an arm, and supported by, the controversial Western Environmental Law Center based out of Oregon. They relied upon an EPA report showing nitrates and contaminants in Yakima Valley area groundwater. The Community, or CARE, lists it's home base as Outlook, WA.
While the nitrate levels exceeded EPA limits, the suit assumes the nitrates came from the Cow Palace and other dairies in the area, without offering concrete proof of their origin.
Experts say this could be a precent-setting case, as a judge has sided with an environmental group that failed to directly link a dairy to an alleged pollution source. They say this could open the door for a flood of suits across the country, assuming guilt by association on the part of dairy operations.
Attorneys for The Cow Palace are already planning an appeal.