Court rules farms can be held liable for manure pollution

A recent federal ruling is opening the doors for legal changes by setting precedent for farmer liability in manure pollution cases. A U.S. federal court judge found that manure from livestock and dairy facilities could be categorized as solid waste, and posed a significant health risk by contaminating water supplies.

The decision referred specifically to a large dairy farm in Washington State, Cow Palace Dairy, which allegedly polluted ground water by applying excessive manure to soil, and was made by Judge Thomas Rice of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington.

Reuters reported that in his 111-page ruling Rice stated, "There can be no dispute that the dairy's operations may present imminent and substantial endangerment to the public who is consuming contaminated water."

This is the first time the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which governs solid and hazardous waste, has been applied to animal excrements. Attorneys for Cow Palace plan to appeal the decision, arguing that the statute was never meant to affect farms.

The lawsuit is a result of years of work by Oregon environmental groups seeking increased regulations for ground and surface water protection. The Community Association for Restoration of the Environment and the Center for Food Safety filed the suit on the behalf of 24,000 residents in February 2013. Rice's ruling is being hailed as a landmark decision by environmentalists.

The case will go to trial in March, to determine the damage done to water supplies, and what kind of clean-up processes will be required. If the ruling is upheld it could affect all large livestock facilities that produce and use manure.

Environmental consultants can work with farms and businesses to conduct soil and groundwater assessment and remediation to ensure compliance with all necessary federal regulations.