Farmer says dairy regulations bad for industry

Argen Duncan

New dairy regulations recently put on hold by Gov. Susana Martinez were bad for the industry, according to local dairy owner Alva Carter Jr.

In the 2009, state lawmakers adopted a bill requiring strict regulations on groundwater pollution prevention for New Mexico dairies. After a lengthy process, the state Water Quality Control Commission passed the regulations.

But before the regulations could take effect, Martinez issued an executive order sending the regulations to a Small Business Task Force, effectively putting everything on hold.

The task force will determine if the regulations inhibit job creation and business growth in the state, said Scott Darnell, communications director for the governor. There is a 90-day freeze on a number of regulations including the dairy rules while the task force reviews them, he said.

Carter, who owns dairies near Portales and Muleshoe, said the dairy industry sought regulations because New Mexico Environment Department rules weren’t working and were inconsistent between dairies and regions.

“It was more of a negotiation process,” he said of what procedures dairies had to follow.

Carter said some parts of the new rules could damage the dairy industry and didn’t have science behind them.

“What we need in New Mexico is we need to know we can protect groundwater at the least expensive cost,” he said.

Carter said major issues include:

Beta zone monitoring versus monitoring wells.

Carter said the dairy industry wanted beta zone monitoring, which tests soil for pollutants at different depths. If the testing reveals high levels of contaminants, the dairy would test deeper levels and go to monitoring wells if pollution was too deep.

However, the state continues to require monitoring wells “indiscriminately,” Carter said.

“Monitoring wells have the potential to allow contaminants to have a straight avenue to our water sources,” he said.

Carter has said contaminants leaking from dairy wastewater lagoons can run down monitoring wells near the lagoons, whereas the soil would have filtered out the pollution without the wells.

In interviews in 2009 and 2010, Groundwater Quality Bureau Chief William Olson said monitoring wells weren’t a source of or conduit for pollutants. Lagoons aren’t supposed to leak, and monitoring wells should be constructed properly, he said.

“Monitoring wells are a nationally recognized mechanism for detecting contamination,” Olson said.

Variances.

Carter said the only thing the new regulations accomplished was allowing dairies to ask the Water Quality Control Commission for a variance if they couldn’t meet the specifics of certain regulations. For example, Carter said, if a facility couldn’t put monitoring wells the required 75 feet from a lagoon because it would be in an irrigation sprinkler track, owners could ask to put the well 80 or 90 feet away.

Lagoon liners.

Carter said the Environment Department wanted double synthetic liners, while the dairy wanted clay liners. The new regulations called for single synthetic liners.

“In my opinion, there’s not any science behind it,” Carter said.

Clay liners won’t work everywhere, he said, but they will in Eastern New Mexico because of the deep water level.

Carter said clay liners can seep when they’re new, but once they’re wet, a seal forms. Also, he said clay will heal itself if damaged.

Synthetic liners have a perfect seal unless they’re damaged, Carter said. Fire, a cow wandering into the lagoon or debris could all damage the liner, he said.

Sampling.

Carter said his industry felt if a visual inspection of dairy systems showed no problems, sampling for pollutants and reading discharge meters should only be required monthly.

The Environment Department supported daily meter reading, Carter said.

“It ended up being weekly, which is very onerous to dairy operations,” he said.

Design of new construction.

Carter said the dairy industry wanted engineers to be able to design new dairies or corrals and the related systems in whatever way best met environmental requirements. He said the new regulations call for a “cookie cutter” process that required certain procedures whether or not they were necessary.

Calls to the Environment Department and governor’s office seeking comment weren’t returned.