What it's like living next to a dairy

Jana Hughes

By Jana Hughes 03/21/14

As a rural resident living in an agricultural area for the majority of my life, I have spent many of those years living near a large-scale industrial dairy operation in the southeastern quadrant of the state.

Industrial confinement dairies produce massive amounts of manure because they confine thousands of animals on too little land. The untreated waste often migrates off-site and into the groundwater and the air I breathe. Land surrounding my home is used to dispose of the manure, bringing the untreated waste even closer to my home.

Because of their unmanageable and uncontained waste, these facilities produce plague-like swarms of flies, including those that can carry disease and bite, tormenting me and my neighbors many months out of the year. And the amount of fly feces they leave behind is huge. I constantly have fly feces on my windows no matter how often I clean them.

The odors emanating from these industrial dairies and their mountains of waste can be nauseating, rancid and relentless. With odor plumes come dust and waste particle pollution carrying the odors of feces, urine and decomposing flesh. On many days I have to pull my clothing up over my nose and mouth while walking to the mailbox to keep from breathing these odors. I cannot plan outside events or cook outside because of the spontaneous odors, flies and dust. Hanging my clothes out to dry in the sun or opening my windows is not an option.
The factory dairy confinement industry relies heavily on our political system, using industry profits to buy influence to allow it to continue “business as usual” while continuing to pollute and deplete our finite water supply. They befriend politicians and distort the issues to manipulate the system and distract the public.

Many of New Mexico’s industrial dairies are illegally discharging and polluting our waters beyond standards set by the U.S. EPA. These are the same standards that New Mexico entities are supposed to enforce. The dairies don’t want the public to know that they cannot appropriately manage the amount of waste they produce, and as a result they are polluting New Mexico’s water, the air we breathe, our environment and our rural quality of life — not to mention our homes and property values.

New Mexico dairies have the highest average number of animals per dairy in the U.S. — which means more waste production per dairy. According to 2009 data from the New Mexico Environment Department, nearly two-thirds of all dairies in the state had exceeded groundwater standards for nitrates. Around 10 percent were in abatement status, requiring special measures to remediate their pollution because it was especially bad. I have a right to a quality of life, to use and enjoy my property, to clean air and drinking water and a safe and clean environment. It seems the dairy industry and politicians disagree with me. Why are politicians not listening to the public?

We should play a part in improving the system to remove abuse and injustice. As concerned citizens, our involvement is important for the future of our community, our state and our country.

Politicians have stated that the dairies were here first. But my house was here before the dairy, and the number of cows at the dairy has multiplied. In addition, after I moved in, the dairy near me bought up the land around us to dump manure. Regardless, does the placement of dairies here first expunge my rights to a quality of life and the use and enjoyment of my home?
At what point did our country’s legal and political system transform into a system where justice and human rights aren’t afforded to those impacted by polluters who claim to have been here first?

What should matter is doing the right thing and ensuring justice for all.

Jana Hughes is part of a citizens coalition with the Rio Grande Chapter and others to create and protect dairy groundwater safeguards. Hughes resides north of Hobbs, where four generations of her family still live and plan to stay. She has gotten involved in groundwater issues because whatever happens now will impact future generations of her family and other families in her community.
Groundwater safety and dairies
In November, the Water Quality Control Commission will hear the dairy industry’s petition to gut the rules protecting groundwater from dairy waste. The Environment Department has stopped enforcing the current rules in anticipation of their dismantling. To learn how you can help, please contact Camilla Feibelman at camilla.feibelman@sierraclub.org.