Factory Farms, Fouled Waters

Clean water is vital to our health, our environment, and our quality of life.

Environment Washington Research and Policy Center envisions a future where all of our waterways, from the Puget Sound to Lake Chelan, are clean and our drinking water is safe. One of the most critical steps to achieving this vision is to dramatically reduce pollution from agribusiness operations, specifically at concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in Washington State.

The estimated 200,000 adult dairy cows in Washington produce over 20 million pounds of manure each day, collectively. It is estimated that 2,500 dairy cows produce a waste load equivalent to a city of 411,000 people. What’s worse, unlike human waste, dairy waste is not treated; instead dairy waste at CAFOs is either stored in manure lagoons or applied to fields.

Credit: Waterkeeper Alliance, CC BY-SA 2.0

Unfortunately, given the quantity, manure is often over-applied to fields, and lagoons often contain millions of gallons of liquid waste where decomposing manure results in high concentrations of nitrites and nitrates. The lagoons and over-application not only pollute groundwater and surface water, but also pose a threat to human health, especially to infants.

Groundwater is the drinking water supply for approximately 60 percent of people who reside in Washington state. Several areas of the state with high concentrations of CAFOs have been found to have high levels of nitrates in drinking water. Nitrates are toxins. High doses particularly threaten pregnant mothers, babies, and seniors, causing methemoglobinemia, or "blue baby syndrome," which can be fatal.

Our goal is to raise the profile of the problem of agricultural pollution in our waterways. We know that Washingtonians care about the Puget Sound and clean water, but to change the way this pollution is managed, we need to educate the public and raise the profile and visibility of the problem.

Issue updates

News Release | Environment Washington

4,500 Washingtonians Submit Comments to Gov. Inslee, Ecology Calling for Stronger CAFO Permit, Drinking Water Protections

4,500 Washingtonians submitted comments to Gov. Inslee and the Department of Ecology (Ecology) calling for stronger state pollution controls for concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs. Untreated manure from CAFOs is contaminating drinking water supplies and waterways across Washington with bacteria and nitrates, which can cause birth defects and other health consequences.

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News Release | Environment Washington

Impacted Communities, Broad Coalition to Gov. Inslee: WA’s Drinking Water, Waterways Need Stronger Factory Farm Pollution Control

Local homeowners and environmental justice leaders from communities impacted by factory farm pollution joined health professionals and a diverse coalition of regional and statewide organizations to call on Governor Inslee and the state Department of Ecology to protect public health and drinking water by strengthening a draft permit for concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in Washington State.

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News Release | Environment America

Clean water wins as Congress rejects budget rider

Due to overwhelming public support, the Clean Water Rule has now withstood every attack that polluters could muster in Congress - the Barrasso bill, the CRA measure, and now an attempted budget rider.  Polluters and their allies have played all their dirty water cards in Congress and lost.   

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Blog Post

Why we need the Clean Water Rule | John Rumpler

Why do we need federal protection under the Clean Water Act if there are also state laws designed to protect our rivers and streams? The answer is that, all too often, state officials fail to enforce their own laws or side with politically-powerful polluters.

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Blog Post

Time to ban the beads | Russell Bassett

We all want our teeth to be clean after brushing, and our bodies to be clean after showering, but did you know the products used in these everyday activities could be harming wildlife? Hundreds of commonly-used household products contain tiny plastic microbeads, which can be a big problem for our environment. 

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