Citizen Action Group Addresses Dairy Farm Pollution

Citizen Action Group Addresses Dairy Farm Pollution

A citizen action group wants dairy farms in this central California county to clean up their act before an additional 50,000 dairy cows arrive during the next five years.

The Fresno Healthy Dairy Commission gave county officials on Friday a report detailing dairy-related pollution and now wants its solutions drafted into an ordinance. The report estimates that covering dairy barns and installing anaerobic digesters could remove more than 1,300 tons of harmful emissions from the county's air annually. The cost: 3 cents per gallon of milk produced, or $66 per cow.

"Enacting these standards would significantly improve air quality in Fresno County and surrounding areas, while allowing the dairy industry to continue to grow as a healthy rate," the report said.

Fresno County has seen double digit growth in the number of dairies operating within its borders between 2002 and 2006. The county's 125 dairy farms hold some 160,000 cows, a figure estimated to increase by another 50,000 cows during the next five years. Milk production is the county's sixth most important crop, valued at nearly $300 million annually.

Although a small source of nitrogen oxide emissions, dairy livestock produces 37 percent of ammonia emissions and 6.5 percent of volatile organic compounds emissions in Fresno County, less than amounts produced by vehicles, pesticides and consumer products.

The California Air Resources Board, however, predicts emissions from dairies in Fresno County will grow by 34 percent between 2005 and 2020, which will eventually make dairies the largest source of volatile organic compounds.

But dairies can do much to reduce emissions. For instance, enclosed barns can lower smog-forming emissions of volatile organic compounds by about 80 percent, and reduce 65 percent of the emissions that form particulate matter. Covered manure lagoons with anaerobic digesters can reduce volatile organic compounds by as much as 46 percent.

The report claims the measures would cost $66 per cow but still allow dairy farmers to make profits of $328 per cow.

The study argues that cutting pollution from dairy farms would help a population living in one of the worst regions in terms of air quality. The American Lung Association ranked Fresno the fourth most polluted county for fine particulate matter and sixth for ozone pollution.

In 1996, it was one of top five U.S. metropolitan areas for premature deaths caused by poor air quality.

A public hearing on the proposed ordinance was scheduled to take place Monday night.

The report was prepared by the California Institute for Rural Studies.