Dairy regulation agreement reached

Freedom New Mexico: Argen Duncan Tony Salinas cleans up after working with cows Saturday at Sloping Hills Dairy just inside Texas. Dairy owner Alva Carter Jr. of Portales has said amendments to state dairy environmental regulations, while not perfect, have opened New Mexico back up to dairy business.

Argen Duncan

After six months of negotiations, the state Environment Department, dairy industry and environmental groups have reached an agreement on dairy environmental regulations.

The state Water Quality Control Commission adopted environmental rules aimed at preventing groundwater contamination in December 2010, but the Dairy Industry Group for a Clean Environment appealed them.

Now the amended rules are headed to the WQCC for a public hearing, according to a news release from the New Mexico Environment Department. If they’re approved, the regulations will take effect 30 days after being filed with the State Records Center.

According to the release, the process is expected to be done before the end of the year. Walter Bradley of the Dairy Farmers of America office in Clovis said the Environment Department is to seek input from dairy owners on whether the new regulations are working, and if not, why.

“I think for the most part, (the rule) does its job,” said dairy owner and DIGCE representative Alva Carter Jr. of Portales.

He said the agreement protects groundwater without over-reaching. The rules aren’t perfect, Carter said, but they open New Mexico back up to the dairy business.

Bradley said the rules were based on science.

In the release, Environment Department Secretary David Martin said he was happy the involved parties had worked for an agreement.

“These agreed rule amendments will benefit dairy operators, the public and the state of New Mexico through the issuance of dairy discharge permits that will protect New Mexico’s groundwater resources in an efficient and business-friendly manner.”

In the release, representatives of the environmental groups a Coalition of Amigos Bravos, Caballo Concerned Citizens and the Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter Concerned Citizens said they were optimistic about the agreement.

“We believe that, under the circumstances, it provides the best solution for protecting New Mexico’s groundwater,” the press release said.

Monitoring wells and the liners of wastewater lagoons were two major topics.

The original rules required synthetic liners for lagoons, but Carter said clay liners were safe in clay soil and with eastern New Mexico’s deep groundwater.

Bradley said the new regulations allow existing clay liners to remain, as long as they’re not leaking. Dairies with clay liners that don’t leak can continue to use them if the operation expands.

“If it’s leaking, it’s a whole different story,” Bradley said.

New dairies must install synthetic liners or seek a variance from the state, with backing from an engineer, he said. If they receive a variance, it’s permanent, provided five-year reviews show the clay liner still works.

Carter said he was satisfied with that rule.

As for monitoring wells, the Environment Department said they were important to check for groundwater contamination. Carter said soil sampling did the same thing and monitoring wells could channel pollution into groundwater.

Bradley said the amended rules require monitoring wells, but don’t set a specific amount. Hydrologists determine how many are necessary, he said.

If dairy owners believe the Environment Department is requiring too many monitoring wells, they can appeal to the department secretary, deputy secretary or division director, and then to the Water Quality Control Commission.

“That’s huge,” Bradley said.

Carter said he still believed monitoring wells created problems.

“But until we can gather up the proof they’re problems, we’re going to have to live with them,” he said.