Sustainable Agriculture Campaign (WA)

The water quality of the state of Washington's Puget Sound has been and continues to be degraded by concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) pollution—industrial operations where animals are not pastured, but confined in barns and feedlots, standing in mud, manure, and urine 365 days per year.

On November 19, 2015, WELC Attorney Andrea Rodgers testified before the Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee in the Washington State House of Representatives in support of a strong WA CAFO Permit. That testimony is available here.

WATCH KOMO News 4 Problem Solvers Investigation of CAFO run-off contaminating shellfish, swimming beaches, and the tap water for thousands of people.

VIEW MAPS that show dairy and water pollution threats to Puget Sound:

Puget Sound lagoon distance from nearest water body map:
Whatcom and Skagit Counties distance from nearest water body map:
Whatcom and Skagit County lagoon excavation depth map:

Plus, check out this interactive map that shows water pollution in Puget Sound.

The Problem

An adult dairy cow generates roughly 120 pounds of manure per day, which is the equivalent of 20 to 40 people. The waste generated at these facilities is stored in unlined lagoons and over-applied to farmland, causing grave environmental, public health, and economic consequences. Unfortunately, Washington state’s estimated 517 dairies, including those in the Puget Sound region, are not being effectively managed or regulated to protect ground and surface waters from nutrient pollution. The impact of this mismanagement is well documented and the contamination astounding.

Over the last 30 years, state and federal agencies have gathered a tremendous amount of scientific data across the state regarding the scope of agricultural pollution. The extent of the contamination is shocking and the potential health and environmental effects devastating.

In the Puget Sound, agricultural pollution from CAFOs has been linked to shellfish bed closures and ocean acidification, perhaps this region’s most imminent environmental and economic catastrophe. Already, acidification has wiped out billions of oyster larvae in the Puget Sound; has impacted pteropods, which are critical food for birds and fish, and poses risks for other important sea life, including red king crab and wild salmon. 

Despite the obvious environmental, public health and economic drivers to reduce contamination of Puget Sound waters from CAFOs, the regulation of agricultural pollution is one of the most contentious issues facing the state today. The powerful agricultural industry is adamant that enforcement mechanisms be voluntary.

Washington state has a history of kowtowing to industry pressure. For example, although there are approximately 1200 CAFOs in the state, only 14 are required to operate with a permit to discharge pollution. Therefore, the state’s recalcitrance to address the pollution through an effective CAFO permit, among other measures, is exacerbating the environmental and health problems associated with CAFOs. 

WELC's Solution

Currently, the Washington Department of Ecology is developing a new CAFO General Permit -- replacing the existing permit that expired in 2011 -- which is required by the Clean Water Act (CWA) for any point source pollutant (including CAFOs). Under Washington law, the Department of Ecology has the authority, and duty, to prevent discharges to both surface and ground water.

We are working with our partners to get Ecology to issue a new CAFO General Permit that requires

  • universal coverage for all medium and large CAFOs;
  • surface and groundwater monitoring; and
  • best management practices such as lined lagoons and salmon stream buffers.

As part of our Washington CAFO permit work, WELC provides legal services to its clients/partners, which now include over 20 environmental organizations and tribal governments. WELC is working to broaden its base of partners/clients to include ecotourism organizations, shellfish growers, sustainable agricultural operations, health professionals, and additional Native American tribes.

A new CAFO Permit is an important local step Washington can take in addressing and mitigating the effects of ocean acidification. View our most recent advocacy letter sent to WA Dept of Ecology.

WELC is asking the Washington Board of Health to use its existing statutory authority to protect public health from the improper management of animal manure. The Board of Health is currently considering a petition for rulemaking designed to significantly reduce the Board's authority and ability to protect public health from the dangers associated with the keeping of animal manure. On behalf of our partners, WELC testified before the Board of Health and asked the Board to take several steps to address this public health crisis. WELC continues to ask the Board to protect the public from CAFO pollution.

WELC is working to make information about the pollution generated by CAFOs publicly available. (Read WELC comments to WSDA on 4.14.14 and on 6.21.14.)

WELC's mission is to protect and restore water quality in Puget Sound and beyond. We are using our expertise and experience to curb pollution to Puget Sound from outdated, harmful agricultural practices. Our campaign incorporates advocacy with federal, state, and local governments, direct dialog with the agricultural industry, a public awareness campaign, and potential litigation. Our efforts are in partnership with Native American Tribes, fishing interests, public health specialists, sustainable agricultural advocates and grocers, conservation organizations, and community members.

Protecting wild salmon in Puget Sound

Cold, clean water is an essential component of a healthy Puget Sound ecosystem, but few people understand how imperiled Puget Sound is by industrial agricultural pollution.  Bacteria and pathogens being released into the water from industrial agricultural operations such as CAFOs have increased stream temperatures, degraded salmon habitat, closed shellfish beds, contaminated drinking water supplies, and exacerbated ocean acidification in certain places within Puget Sound.

WELC is working to raise awareness about this issue, increasing popular support for a non-voluntary, regulatory approach to addressing agricultural pollution in Washington state.

We are working to collect and disseminate data on the scope of this pollution problem, advocate for additional regulations and enforcement by federal, state, and local governments, and collaborate with Native American tribal governments who serve as co-managers of the salmon fishery and shellfish industry.

Our clients and partners in this work are: What's Up Stream, Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, Center for Environmental Law & Policy, Sierra Club, Community for the Restoration of the Environment, Friends of Toppenish Creek, Concerned Area Residents of the Yakama Reservation, Law Offices of Charles M. Tebbutt, Swinomish Indian Community, Orca Conservancy, RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, Spokane Riverkeeper, Center for Food Safety, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Pasado’s Safe Haven, Citizens for Sustainable Development, Socially Responsible Agriculture Project, Public Justice, NW Indian Fisheries Commission, Center for Biological Diversity, Yakama Nation, Snoqualmie Indian Tribe, Lummi Indian Nation, and Friends of the Earth.

(WELC project #502, 503, 504, and 505)