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Innovative State Programs: Idaho

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Idaho's Dairy Pollution Prevention Initiative:
Unique Program Eliminates Direct Dairy Discharges

Marv Patten
Dairy Bureau Chief
Department of Agriculture (ISDA)
2270 Old Penitentiary Road
Boise, ID 83701

Bub Loiselle
NPDES Compliance Unit
Region 10
200 Sixth Avenue
Seattle, WA 98101

The Idaho Dairy Pollution Prevention Initiative is an unusual public-private partnership formed to resolve major environmental problems not adequately addressed by the federal and state environmental agencies that traditionally regulate such problems. The partnership is an alliance among two federal and two state agencies, an industry group, and a state university.

In 1995 it was determined that 280 Idaho dairies (about one-fourth of the total number) were discharging untreated animal and dairy process waste to roadside ditches, streams, and ground water. Dairy waste discharges are typically high in levels of Escherichia coli, Salmonella, and Cryptosporidium. When ingested, these microorganisms can cause illness and death. Some water bodies that had been receiving dairy waste discharges were also used for human contact sports and as drinking water sources. No known outbreaks of disease can be attributed directly to discharges from Idaho dairies; however, fish kills have been recorded on several occasions.

Before the Dairy Initiative, dairy waste control efforts by EPA and the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (IDEQ) were somewhat misdirected and only marginally effective. EPA regulations generally restrict coverage to only those dairies with more than 200 cows. Most (approximately 70 percent) of the 280 dairies discovered discharging fell beneath this 200-cow cutoff. Unless a complaint was filed, it was quite possible for discharges from the smaller dairies to go undetected by EPA and IDEQ.

Dairy MOU partners

The Idaho Dairy Pollution Prevention Memorandum of Understanding (Dairy MOU) was signed in October 1995. It assigned the Idaho State Department of Agriculture (ISDA) the lead role of interacting directly with the dairy industry to address the concerns of IDEQ and EPA. A set of guidelines and criteria were jointly conceived.

Under the Dairy MOU, EPA and IDEQ agreed to train ISDA inspectors and support the ISDA in circumstances of major environmental or public health risk and the Idaho Dairy Association (IDA) agreed to contact and inform the industry, promote the program, and educate IDA members about the values of environmental stewardship along with production capacity. To establish this innovative program's credibility and to build public confidence, all parties decided to review the program annually in a public forum and make the results available to interested parties.

Though not signatory parties to the Dairy MOU, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the University of Idaho Extension Service are considered partners in that they played key roles in developing and implementing the Idaho Dairy Initiative.

Dairy MOU components

All Idaho dairies are required to obtain a license to sell milk for human consumption. The ISDA had administered a comprehensive inspection program focusing on milk sanitation for all dairies but had not addressed the waste problem. The Dairy MOU capitalized on the frequent presence of ISDA inspectors and provided for their expanded role to ensure that all dairies could contain and properly handle their waste. Each dairy and its waste storage and handling system would now be inspected for compliance at least annually. (Inspections averaged 2.5 times per year in 2000.) In early 1996 state legislation and rules were developed, providing ISDA with authority to require full containment of dairy waste. Under the new ISDA rules, dairies found to be in noncompliance cannot sell milk until they agree to implement a plan for corrective action.

The new ISDA rules also require all dairies to construct large-capacity waste containment ponds that are less prone to leakage than older ponds. These restrictions are more protective of surface and ground water than the former IDEQ and EPA requirements. In addition, the new ISDA rules have been modified to require that dairy waste be land applied only in accordance with an approved nutrient management plan. These plans are required on all dairies by July 2001 and will ensure that the waste will be balanced against the crop uptake and not be lost to groundwater or surface waters.

Measures of success

Although the earlier EPA penalties were significant, their deterrence ability was diminished by recognition that fewer than 5 percent of the dairies would be inspected in any one year. Since the program's inception, ISDA has conducted more than 14,000 inspections of dairy farms, resulting in an increase in inspections from an average of 40 per year to 2,800 per year. The dairies now understand that they will be inspected frequently, and this level of certainty has caused dairies with marginal facilities to be much more proactive in installing and managing proper waste handling facilities.

Improvement in compliance has resulted in the virtual elimination of direct discharges to the environment. In 1996, 25 percent of the dairies had some type of discharge violation. This percentage has dropped to less than 0.5 percent of the dairies. In addition, violations not related to discharges have dropped by 76 percent (ISDA 2000 Annual Report).

The number of dairy waste handling facilities put into place since 1996 also represents a strong measure of program success. The new program has directly resulted in more than $10 million worth of construction for more than 500 dairy waste containment ponds and handling facilities. This significant increase in environmental protection would not have been possible without the innovative partnerships formed as a result of the Dairy Initiative.

A model for other states

Because of the success of the Idaho Dairy Initiative, several states and industry groups are considering adopting similar approaches. States considering the Initiative as a model include Oregon, Georgia, Ohio, Minnesota, and Florida.

In August 1998 Vice President Al Gore's "Hammer Award" for reinventing government was presented to each of the signatory parties of the Idaho Dairy MOU, to the University of Idaho Extension Service, and to nine individuals who were key contributors to the successful negotiation of the MOU. In early 1999 EPA awarded Silver Medals to the EPA employees who had contributed significantly to the development and implementation of the MOU. Most recently, the Dairy Initiative has been named as a semifinalist in the Innovations in American Government Award, sponsored by the Institute for Government Innovation at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government.

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