The Washington Department of Ecology’s wastewater-discharge permit requirements have drawn support from an unexpected source—a Thurston County dairyman.

“Dairies can farm in an environmentally-friendly way,” says Fred Colvin, business manager for Doelman Dairy Farm in Thurston and Grays Harbor counties. “I want dairy operators to know that having an Ecology inspector tell you that you need a permit is not the end of the world.”

Proper management of dairy waste was once one of the most controversial water quality issues in the state, according to Ecology, but it is now becoming standard at dairy farms around Washington. Under the federal Clean Water Act, Ecology must issue wastewater discharge permits and renew them every five years. The objective of the permit process is to assure steps are being taken to keep manure and other contaminated runoff out of lakes, rivers and ground water.

“Issuing the dairy permit this year was very different from the first time we issued it in the early 1990s, when hundreds of people crowded workshops and hearings to criticize and question the permit,” says Phil Kauzloric, Ecology’s dairy program coordinator.

At the end of 1999, the agency held four public hearings around the state to get comments on the permit. Only about 50 people attended and 12 people commented.

He attributes the decline in opposition to the fact that Ecology has worked with the dairy industry, the Legislature and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to develop and implement a program that protects the environment but is manageable for farmers.

Manure and contaminated runoff from dairies can cause significant water pollution and harm public health, water quality, shellfish and salmon if it is not properly managed, says Colvin, who points out that three of the Doelman farms have dairy waste permits.

Any dairy that discharges waste to a lake, river, marine or ground water needs a permit, says Kauzloric. Nearly 80 of the state’s more than 730 dairies operate with dairy waste permits.

A permit allows farms to discharge untreated manure into creeks and streams only under extreme weather conditions and directs farms to develop and implement management plans to prevent and stop discharges at other times.

Permits issued by Ecology were little changed from the first ones issued in 1994. The primary change was to make the permit consistent with the federal Clean Water Act regulations and 1998 state law to manage dairy waste.

By Kamilla K. McClelland, Business Examiner staff