N.M. Environment Department stops enforcing water safeguards for dairies

dairy cows dairies

By Michael Jensen, Amigos Bravos, and Dan Lorimier 03/24/14

When the Martinez Administration’s Water Quality Control Commission compromised public health and the environment by adopting the Copper Rule in September, it also created an alarming precedent to allow pollution of the state’s groundwater rather than requiring prevention of pollution.

The dairy industry was quick to jump at the chance for similar treatment, petitioning the commission to gut the recently enacted Dairy Rule after less than a year of implementation.

The Environment Department, anticipating the Dairy Rule’s dismantling, has suspended enforcement of the rule and issuance of dairy pollution-control permits until after the Water Quality Control Commission hears the industry’s request. The hearing, scheduled for March, has now been postponed until November.

The dairy industry’s petition proposes serious changes to the Dairy Rule that amount to removing much of the language stakeholders spent three years crafting. The changes would return to the less protective rules of 20 years ago, which led to widespread groundwater contamination.
The Citizens Coalition, which includes the Rio Grande Chapter, Amigos Bravos, New Mexicans who live near dairies and other allied groups, worked for years and made significant compromises to the industry just to make sure the groundwater safeguards in the Dairy Rule were passed and implemented. All stakeholders, including the industry, agreed to these rules.

Placement of monitoring wells, stronger requirements for protective liners in waste-containment facilities, waste backflow-prevention safeguards and certified management plans for fields used to dispose of untreated waste are all under attack by the dairy industry’s proposed amendments.

Many of our concerns center around Gov. Susana Martinez’s vision of the Environment Department as a division of the Economic Development Department and the Water Quality Control Commission’s composition of exclusively industry-friendly commissioners.
Throwing out protections for our groundwater is bad for New Mexico businesses and everyone else. All the administration has to show for more than three years of a no-holds-barred approach to corporate giveaways is the worst state economy in the West and a 48 ranking in job growth nationwide.

Let’s leave the corporate focus to the Economic Development Department and recommit to the vision of our Environment Department’s thoughtful and protective oversight of our precious natural resources.