In an unprecedented decision, a U.S. federal court has ruled that manure from livestock facilities can be regulated as solid waste.On Jan. 14, Judge Thomas Rice of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington ruled that Cow Palace Dairy of Granger, Washington, polluted ground water by over-applying manure to soil.

The development is the latest in a years-long chain of events affecting dairies in Washington's Lower Yakima Valley. At the heart of the issue is groundwater quality.

In early 2013, the Community Association for Restoration of the Environment (CARE) and the Center for Food Safety (CFS) filed lawsuits against five dairies, including Cow Palace Dairy, which milks about 7,000 cows.

The environmental groups alleged that the dairies over-applied manure and allowed liquid manure to leak from lagoons, polluting the aquifer.

They said this constitutes “open dumping” of solid waste, a violation of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), which was enacted by Congress in 1976 to protect people and the environment from solid and hazardous waste. The act was intended to regulate sources of waste such as underground storage tanks and municipal landfills.


According to a Reuters article by Ayesha Rascoe, fertilizer is not considered waste under the act, but the district court found that Cow Palace Dairy was "applying more manure to crops than needed."

The Reuters article explains that the court found Cow Palace Dairy's "excessive application" transformed the waste, which is "an otherwise beneficial and useful product," into a discarded material that violates the open dumping provisions.

An attorney for Cow Palace Dairy said it plans to ask for an appeal.

This is the first time RCRA has been used successfully in federal court as the basis for a citizen lawsuit against livestock producers. It could open a door that producers may wish had stayed shut.

Progressive Dairyman covered Washington's RCRA-related litigation extensively earlier this year.

In one of those articles, Debora Kristensen, a Boise, Idaho-based attorney representing the dairymen in the CARE/CFS case, said, "If plaintiffs win, any agricultural operation that uses, handles or stores manure is potentially subject to liability under RCRA.” PD

—Summarized by Progressive Dairyman staff from cited sources

Read more about this issue:

Yakima Valley dairy lawsuits through the producers’ eyes

What is the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act?

Yakima Valley dairy lawsuits: Who is the opposition?