Judge Nixes Approval of Mega-Dairy
By Jenny Coyle
Noting threats to groundwater and air quality, a California judge in May overturned approval of a 28,600-head dairy that would produce more than 1 million gallons of liquid manure a day and dwarf Kern County's average-sized dairy of 1,620 cows. The win was the second legal victory by the Sierra Club's staff lawyers against new mega-dairies in the San Joaquin Valley.
The state court agreed with the Club and Center for Race, Poverty and the Environment that Kern County violated state environmental laws when it approved Borba Dairy Farms' operation.
The violations included the use of an engineering formula to bolster Borba's claim that a state-of-the-art liner in the manure storage basin would allow only "1 x 10-6 centimeters of waste per second" to seep into the groundwater. Not a lot of people could pull out a calculator and figure out that means 36,000 gallons would leak each day - hardly worth bragging about.
"They didn't put it in terms the public could understand," said staff attorney Aaron Isherwood.
The judge's groundbreaking decision may thwart the Borba proposal - the company has to go back to the drawing board - and will set a new standard for future concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, that want to do business in the county.
The judge said Borba must analyze the cumulative environmental impacts of all existing dairies in the San Joaquin Valley Air Basin - an eight-county area - as well as dairies that are approved but not yet built.
The Borba dairy would increase the pollution burden in the San Joaquin basin by adding annually 450 tons of particulate matter, 980 tons of toxic ammonia gas, and 4,470 tons of methane, a greenhouse gas that causes global warming.
"These huge impacts underscore that these mega-farms are really animal factories, with commensurate public health and pollution impacts," said Isherwood.
Borba cannot proceed now without exploring alternatives to its original proposal, including a smaller operation. The company must also propose a plan to pay for the cleanup of any groundwater pollution caused by its dairy.
"This decision will force CAFOs to be up-front with the public about the air and water pollution they'll create, and to minimize the impacts," said Isherwood. "In some instances, that will mean they shouldn't be built at all."
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