North Coast Waterboard Dairy Permit Adoption

This runoff from a Laguna dairy had 120,000 times the safe level of indicator bacteria – Unhealthy for drinking water source.

On August 16th, the North Coast Waterboard voted to adopt the General Waste Discharge Requirements for Dairies permit (Dairy Permit)  despite the objections of Russian Riverkeeper and our statewide California Coastkeeper Alliance. Currently, twenty dairies operate in the Russian River watershed and all are located in the severely polluted Laguna de Santa Rosa. Riverkeeper collected water samples over three years from a local dairy and their manure spray fields and found constant water quality violations. Additionally, Riverkeeper sampled six random dairies this past January and all were in violation of levels established to protect the Laguna. This confirms dairies are discharging pollution into our waterways.

All local dairies are enrolled in a less stringent State permit,  despite this data and federal law requiring that any dairies that discharge waste/manure must enroll in a rigorous Federal permit. The recently adopted Dairy Permit has flaws that will not be apparent until well after our ability to challenge the permit have passed so we might be forced to challenge it just to preserve our rights.

One of these flaws is that dairies were allowed to collect samples to determine if they’re complying with permit terms, but the previous permit allowed those samples to be collected well distant from dairies. That compliance-monitoring flaw meant that samples to measure whether dairies are polluting or not were collected where hundreds, sometimes thousands of properties drained into, including a dairy, so the sample was so diluted it had no bearing on whether the dairy was polluting or not.

Although the Dairy Permit was adopted last week and our period for challenging it runs for 60 days, the new Monitoring and Reporting Program will not be out for another year or two which means we won’t know if flaws have been addressed. Other issues include not being able to see or review a Dairy Nutrient Management Plan which details how much manure is produced and what happens to it. We’re also prevented from viewing the Water Quality Plan or Riparian Management Plan despite a recent court ruling that any documents relied upon for permit must be made available to the public. This is a major issue since the cows in our watershed produce more manure by about seven times than the human population and ours is all treated to protect the river.

Some dairies like Beretta Dairy have made major improvements to their operations and our tests in January showed they had the lowest pollution. We appreciate our local dairies and want them to be able to continue to supply local milk but that should not be at the cost of  toxic algae blooms that manure can cause. Riverkeeper might challenge the Dairy Permit but will for sure offer our assistance to local dairy producers to reduce pollution, as we’d like to get a policy that protects our river and all North coast rivers and keep our dairies in business. Stay tuned for updates!