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

Report | Environment Washington Research and Policy Center

Rough Waters Ahead

Puget Sound’s beauty hides some of the challenges it faces. Salmon and other wildlife populations struggle, past industrial pollution in some areas has made fish unsafe to eat, and untreated sewage pollutes shellfish beds. But with the dedicated work of local, state and federal governments – along with residents – the long process of restoring Puget Sound to health is underway. The U.S.

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News Release | Environment Washington Research and Policy Center

Major Polluters Dumping into Washington Waterways

Major industrial facilities illegally dumped dangerous levels of pollution into Washington’s waterways 55 times over 21 months, according to a new report by Environment Washington Research and Policy Center. The facilities rarely faced penalties for this pollution due to inaction by state and federal agencies responsible for implementing the Clean Water Act. Environment Washington’s Troubled Waters report comes as the Trump administration tries to weaken clean water protections and slash enforcement funding for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the states.

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Report | Environment Washington Research & Policy Center

Troubled Waters 2018

Over a 21-month period from January 2016 to September 2017, major industrial facilities released pollution that exceeded the levels allowed under their Clean Water Act permits more than 8,100 times. Often, these polluters faced no fines or penalties.

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News Release | Environment America

Health, Business, and Community Voices Urge EPA to Keep Clean Water Rule

Today more than 600 leaders from 43 states – including doctors and nurses, business owners, state and local officials, and watershed activists - urged U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to maintain the Clean Water Rule.  Environment America Research & Policy Center submitted their comments in response to EPA’s proposal to dismantle the Rule, which restored federal protections to drinking water sources for 117 million Americans.

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Report | Environment Washington Research and Policy Center

Rough Waters Ahead Factsheet

Millions of Americans live in the Puget Sound watershed, and millions more come each year to fish, boat and enjoy its water and wildlife. But intense human activity has polluted the Sound. The Environmental Protection Agency has been vital to protecting Puget Sound, holding polluters accountable and working with state, local and tribal governments to clean up and restore the Sound. That work is in jeopardy because the Trump administration has proposed cutting the EPA’s budget by 31 percent.

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