Cow manure and urine is environmentally toxic stuff, so concern that recently relaxed rules governing New York’s dairy farmers could create water pollution problems is understandable.
To accommodate the state’s fast-growing Greek yogurt industry, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has made it easier for small dairy farmers to expand: Where farmers with fewer than 200 cows were previously exempt from rules requiring the construction of catch basins and lagoons and other technology to reduce pollution-causing runoff, the new rules allow farmers another 100 cows before they have to comply. The technology is expensive, and has discouraged many a small farm operations from growing at a time the burgeoning yogurt industry needs more milk.
Cuomo properly recognized the growth opportunity for farmers as an ideal situation for the moribund upstate economy, but his haste to accommodate farmers may result in more waste than New York’s and other states’ water supplies can safely handle. That would be bad since cow waste can, among other things, elevate nitrate levels in water to dangerously high levels, increase access to disease-causing pathogens, and create “dead zones” in large bodies of water.
Litigation filed by several environmental groups contends that the Department of Environmental Conservation didn’t adequate weigh the impact of the new rules; that they’re so lax they may violate the federal Clean Water Act and undermine DEC’s ability to meet federal runoff limits set to protect Chesapeake Bay. We hope that’s not the case, but since the state is hardly neutral on the issue, it probably makes the most sense for the federal Environmental Protection Agency to be the judge here.
New York’s dairy farmers need help, but if this rule change produces another 25,000 cows, and they produce an extra 3 million pounds of feces and urine daily, some safeguards will need to be adopted.