Dairy farmers say proposed regulations could put them out of business

File photo Agendas for the Portales City Council and the Roosevelt and Curry County commissions include a resolution opposing proposed regulations for maintaining groundwater quality under dairies.

A trio of governmental bodies meeting today are set to consider opposing proposed state regulations that some dairy farmers say will drive them out of business. But state Environment Department representatives say the proposed rules are based on evidence.

Agendas for the Portales City Council and the Roosevelt and Curry County commissions include a resolution opposing proposed regulations for maintaining groundwater quality under dairies. The state Water Quality Control Commission makes the decision about the regulations, and the resolutions only show the governing bodies’ stance.

Portales Mayor Sharon King said losing dairies would be devastating to the city, and dairy associations aren’t convinced the state Environment Department was using good science in their proposals.

“So we’re basically asking them to re-look at that and not damage our industry,” she said.

Alva Carter Jr., a Portales dairy owner and chairman of Dairy Industry Group for a Cleaner Environment, said the department’s proposals could put between 35 percent and 50 percent of New Mexico dairies out of business because of the prohibitive cost of following the regulations. He said the dairy industry isn’t against being regulated, but he doesn’t believe the proposed rules are based on sound science.

Groundwater Quality Bureau Chief William Olson said he couldn’t comment on the number of dairies that might be put out of business because he didn’t have the data to which Carter referred.

However, he said he and other Environment Department personnel made recommendations on what they saw as necessary. Olson said pollution prevention could save money because contamination cleanup is expensive.

The move for the state regulations is mandated by a bill the Legislature has passed to establish consistent regulations specifically for the dairy industry. Olson said the Water Quality Control Commission is to hold hearings on the regulations next week and make the decision after considering input from a variety of stakeholders.

Sources of contention are:

• Monitoring wells. Carter said dairy industry groups believe the wells, intended to monitor groundwater for contamination, act as conduits introducing pollutants into the aquifer. Technical advice stipulates that having the wells 50 feet from a wastewater lagoon isn’t wise, he said.

Olson said monitoring wells aren’t a source or conduit for contaminants, and the proposed rules would require one well for each lagoon or site of land application of wastewater.

• Lagoon lining systems. The department’s proposed regulations would mandate double-liner systems for lagoons in new dairies where the depth to groundwater was 50 feet or less and would prohibit clay liners, Carter said. The dairy industry takes the position that the double liners haven’t been proven necessary or feasible, and clay liners are appropriate when groundwater is more than 100 feet below.

Olson said dairies could keep whatever system they had as long as the lagoons weren’t leaking or could be repaired. He said Environment Department personnel think the double liners have sound science behind them and are appropriate with groundwater close to the surface.

• Retrofitting dairies. Carter said proposed regulations would require existing dairies to conform to standards for new dairies for any violation, including improperly filed paperwork. That punishment could be cost-prohibitive, he said.

Olson said dairies would be allowed to keep their wastewater systems as long as those systems worked or could be fixed.

The resolution opposing the changes has already been passed by the Clovis City Commission.

Carter said there will be a 3:30 p.m. Wednesday press conference at the Business Enterprise Center at 105 E. Grand St. in Clovis, with invites given to the local organizations voting on the resolution. He said nobody has promised him the resolution would pass in any body, but he’s making an educated guess that groups will pass it.