Michigan Dairy settles manure case with EPA, Sierra Club

CHICAGO, Illinois, January 8, 2004 (ENS): U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 5 and the Sierra Club have reached an agreement with a dairy in western Michigan to settle alleged water pollution violations resulting from the discharge of manure and other pollutants into public waterways.

Separate EPA and Sierra Club lawsuits against Walnutdale Farms Inc. and owners Ralph and Kevin Lettinga of Wayland, Michigan, were consolidated by the court.

As part of the court settlement filed December 22, 2003, Walnutdale Farms and the Lettingas will build and use a retention pond to store contaminated runoff from the dairy for 180 days and develop a plan for approval by EPA and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to manage and dispose of all wastes from the dairy without polluting nearby waterways.

In addition, they will pay $100,000 plus interest over a four year period, with half the amount being paid to the United States as a civil penalty and the other half to the Sierra Club in partial reimbursement of litigation costs.

"EPA and Michigan Department of Environmental Quality have been working with the dairy to help it meet Clean Water Act requirements," said EPA Water Division director Jo-Lynn Traub. "The dairy's owners have been extremely cooperative and have already made several improvements to prevent water pollution from the facility."

Walnutdale Farms has more than 700 dairy cattle which are confined, fed and maintained within several freestall barns. The dairy now has obtained a Michigan wastewater discharge permit - the first ever issued by the state to a concentrated animal feeding operation.

In October 2002, the EPA filed suit against Walnutdale Farms and the Lettingas under the Clean Water Act, alleging that manure and other pollutants were being unlawfully discharged into a farm drain and then into the Red Run Drain, a tributary of the Rabbit River.

Discharges of manure and other wastes from feedlots may kill fish, cause infectious diseases in people, lead to excessive algae growth and upset the balance of life in streams and lakes, the agency says.

Under a preliminary settlement with the Sierra Club, the dairy has constructed a manure storage lagoon, which allows the dairy to store manure over the winter months rather than spreading it on frozen fields.

In the past, according to the complaints filed by EPA and the Sierra Club, manure accumulated on frozen or snowy ground would run off into Red Run Drain during the spring thaw. These improvements have already resulted in improved water quality in the Red Run Drain, the agencies say.

There will be a 30 day public comment period before the settlement is finalized by the court.


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