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In a precedent-setting decision earlier this month that received scant national coverage, a federal district court judge in Washington state ordered a CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation), also known as a factory farm, to monitor groundwater, drainage, and soil for illegal pollution resulting from its grossly inadequate manure management practices in violation of the Clean Water Act. This first-ever ruling holding a CAFO accountable for its pollution was a result of a lawsuit by the nonprofit Community Association for Restoration of the Environment (CARE) against the Nelson Faria Dairy in Royal, Wash. The ruling upholds the terms of a 2006 settlement CARE had with the dairy’s previous owners, which the current owners subsequently ignored.
The case underscores one of the major problems with CAFOs, which is the massive amount of manure they produce and the manners by which operators dispose of it, which have major environmental implications. According to the EPA, “a single dairy cow produces approximately 120 pounds of wet manure per day,” which is “equivalent to that of 20-40 people.” The quantity of manure produced by one dairy cow can be multiplied on a CAFO by hundreds or, in some cases, thousands of heads. This higher concentration of CAFO animals leads to a higher concentration of animal waste, a problem that holds true for all types of livestock raised in these operations. As CARE describes the scale of the waste problem:
Operations like the Nelson Faria Dairy produce as much waste as a city of over 200,000 people. Unlike cities, however, which treat their wastes, the dairy industry applies manure to agricultural fields primarily to get rid of it.