Dairy cows

Dairy cows feed at a Lower Valley dairy in September 2008. (Yakima Herald-Republic file photo)

OUTLOOK, Wash. -- The former owner of Snipes Mountain Dairy in Outlook recently agreed to a $20,000 settlement under a federal consent decree in a lawsuit alleging the operation violated the Clean Water Act.

The former operator also was ordered to pay $55,000 in attorney fees.

The consent decree signed Jan. 31 by U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Rice requires the money to be given to a drinking water project organized by CARE, a local environmental group.

CARE and Friends of Toppenish Creek filed the lawsuit  in April 2017, alleging the dairy for years had been discharging effluent into nearby streams and the Yakima River.

In March 2018, the dairy was sold to another entity, SMD, LLC. The decree doesn’t impact the new owners.

Both environmental groups in the lawsuit alleged the dairy had a history of overapplying cow manure as fertilizer to fields. The lawsuit was sparked when a manure holding pond from another dairy breached in March 2017, sending runoff water over a field that Snipes had applied with manure and into an Outlook neighborhood. Contaminated floodwater entered a few homes and some private domestic wells.

Snipes’ former owner disputed any wrongdoing, saying the decree resolves the lawsuit.

CARE’s water project provides free testing of rural domestic wells in areas where large dairies and concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are located.

Under the decree, the money is to be spent on well testing, identifying those potentially impacted by groundwater contamination that may have come from the Snipes Mountain Dairy operation and helping secure an alternative water source for those whose wells have a nitrate concentration 
of 10 parts per million or 
greater.

Nitrates naturally occur in soil, but heavy use of fertilizer and animal waste can dramatically increase nitrate concentrations.

High levels of nitrate in drinking water can be dangerous to the health of pregnant women and infants, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.