EPA, Department of Justice sue Washington dairies regarding nitrate pollution

July 8, 2024

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Justice asked the Eastern District Court of Washington on July 2 to immediately force three large Lower Yakima Valley dairies to test down-gradient wells and supply alternative drinking water to homes where well water exceeds the federal standard for nitrate of 10 milligrams per liter.

The “motion for preliminary injunction” follows the lawsuit EPA and DOJ filed on June 26 claiming the three dairies have failed to adequately control nitrate contamination from their operations.

In the complaint, the EPA alleges the dairies, which collectively have more than 30,000 animals, have failed to comply with a legal agreement they entered into with the EPA in 2013 that aimed to reduce nitrate leaching from their facilities and protect downgradient community members with nitrate contaminated well water. The agencies believe this nitrate contamination may be contaminating the drinking water wells of nearby community members.

The EPA is urging community members using a well within approximately three-and-one-half miles south and southwest of the dairies to visit the EPA's website, or call (509) 204-1941 or (888) 508-6344 for information on how to get their wells tested for nitrate.

Nitrate is an acute contaminant. A single exposure can pose health risks, including a condition in infants known as methemoglobinemia, also known as “blue baby syndrome,” that can result in death. People who are pregnant or have other health concerns are also at high risk from other health effects from exposure to nitrate.

“People who live near these dairies are at risk,” said Ed Kowalski, director of EPA Region 10’s Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Division. “It is critical that the dairies follow through on what they promised to do to protect their neighbors. The work remains unfinished, and the contamination persists. Everyone deserves safe drinking water. And we’re going to do everything we can to ensure the people near these dairies get it sooner rather than later.”

Specifically, the EPA has asked the federal judge to require the dairies to:

  • Continue monitoring groundwater at their sprawling facilities
  • Offer nitrate testing of drinking water wells to community members within an area approximately three-and-one-half miles hydrologically downgradient
  • Offer to provide impacted homes with either a treatment unit or bottled water delivery if nitrate levels are above the maximum containment level of 10 mg/L
  • Offer professional maintenance service for any impacted home with a treatment unit
  • Immediately test a lined lagoon for leaks because the liner was seriously damaged during a windstorm and the EPA suspects it is a source of a continuing leak of significant amounts of nitrate to groundwater.

If the court agrees, the EPA will notify the affected homes and will explain how homeowners can get free well testing and alternative water, if needed.

See what NGWA tells homeowners with well systems about nitrates on Wellowner.org, its website for those with private well systems.