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Environment | Water

Dairies Fight EPA Nitrate Study

A dairy in the Yakima Valley. EPA researchers drew their conclusions based five dairies in the Lower Yakima Valley.

A dairy in the Yakima Valley. EPA researchers drew their conclusions based five dairies in the Lower Yakima Valley.

Courtney Flatt

RICHLAND, Wash. – The Washington dairy industry is fighting a report from the Environmental Protection Agency. The report said dairies are likely contaminating residential wells in the Lower Yakima Valley.

The Environmental Protection Agency studied 331 residential wells and found 20 percent had high nitrate levels. Researchers named dairies as the likely source of contamination.

But dairy industry officials say the report doesn’t have any scientific backing. They note limitations cited by EPA researchers, like: not knowing the depth of every well or how wells were constructed.

Steve George is a consultant with the Washington State Dairy Federation. He said the report should be thrown out.

“They really didn’t get bona fide, honest-to-god, peer-reviewed data to back up the claims that they made,” George said.

Nitrates come from manure and fertilizers. When they contaminate drinking water, nitrates can be harmful to children and some adults. Around 25,000 people in the Lower Yakima Valley drink from private wells.

The EPA has started drilling about 9 monitoring wells in the Lower Yakima Valley.

Tom Eaton, the EPA’s Washington operations manager, said this will help clear up the shortcomings in the study.

“We believe this will give us data that will get at several of the limitations in our study. We’ll know the construction. We’ll know the depth of the aquifer. We’ll know where it’s screened. They’re located to try to give us specific information about whether the potential sources are actually contributing,” Eaton said.

The report also found fields that grow crops, like hops and mint, are a likely source of nitrate contamination. However, scientists said the link was not as strong to croplands as it was to dairies.