Voice: Dairies: Keep on mooovin'

May 24, 2002

In response to the question posed by the title of a May 16 article in this paper — "Dairy farmers looking to move in our back yard?" — the first question we should be asking ourselves is why other California counties don't want dairies in their back yards. What they have learned about dairies leads me to think that any dairy farmers considering moving here should be told that Imperial County is not the answer to their prayers.

If indeed a permit has been taken out in our county for a 3,000-cow facility, the owners of that facility should be thinking about whether they have a spare $500,000 to spend on environmental impact reports as did a dairy that tried to move from Chino to Kern County.

Contrary to a statement made by Jim Kuhn in the article referred to above, Imperial County does have groundwater, and it will have to be protected. Studies conducted on behalf of the county have shown that groundwater exists in several areas throughout the county, and in some locations is of excellent quality. Some of the groundwater is even in hydraulic action with the Colorado River, the water of which, as we all know, is already the subject of many ongoing discussions and disputes. Even where the quality of the groundwater is poor, there is no basis for polluting it.


The last thing our valley needs is more pollution, and pollution is exactly what dairies can bring. According to the Luke Cole, the Harvard Law School-educated director of the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment, one dairy cow produces as much waste as 20 people-and a 1,000-cow dairy, like the one already in operation here, produces as much sewage as a city of 20,000 people. In addition to the dust and odors this much waste can create, manure also can seep into the ground water.

The growth of the dairy industry in Kings, Kern, Tulare and Madera counties has been brought to a stand still by CRPE, with lawsuits brought on behalf of underprivileged Hispanic county residents who contended there had been a failure to comply with California environmental laws. After seeing the success of the plaintiffs in the Central Valley, there is no reason to let those same dairies move to Imperial County without making sure that they comply with all applicable environmental laws.

Even though the Brawley Beef plant was placed on the east side of Brawley without much opposition from the community, the problems it has created have awakened a new sense of activism among residents. People are no longer content to suffer while a select few profit. Anyone with any doubts about what a dairy can do to the environment should travel to Chino and experience the smells, the flies and see the mountains of manure that I have seen.

Let us not allow Imperial County to become the dairy industry's alternative to the Central Valley. Potential developers here should consider themselves on notice that added pollution, whether of the air or water, will not go unnoticed or unchallenged, especially since agriculture is no longer exempted from the Clean Air Act. On a related topic, maybe the burning of fields can finally be stopped now!



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