Michigan farm paying for polluting: EPA, Sierra Club settle with dairy

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CHICAGO – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Sierra Club recently reached an agreement with a dairy in western Michigan to settle alleged water pollution violations.

Separate EPA and Sierra Club lawsuits against Walnutdale Farms Inc. – and owners Ralph and Kevin Lettinga of Wayland, Mich., were consolidated by the court.

Remediation. As part of the settlement, which was lodged with the court Dec. 22, Walnutdale Farms and the Lettingas will build and use a retention pond to store contaminated runoff from the dairy for 180 days.

They must also develop a plan for approval by EPA and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to manage and dispose of all wastes from the dairy without polluting nearby waterways.

In addition, they will pay $100,000 plus interest over a four-year period, with half the amount being paid to the United States as a civil penalty and the other half to the Sierra Club in partial reimbursement of litigation costs.

There will be a 30-day public comment period before the settlement is finalized by the court.

Farm is cooperating. “EPA and Michigan Department of Environmental Quality have been working with the dairy to help it meet Clean Water Act requirements,” said EPA Water Division director Jo-Lynn Traub.

Traub said the dairy’s owners have been “extremely cooperative” and have already made several improvements to prevent water pollution from the facility.

The dairy has also obtained a Michigan wastewater discharge permit – the first such permit issued by the state to a concentrated animal feeding operation.

Background. In October 2002, EPA filed suit against Walnutdale Farms and the Lettingas under the Clean Water Act, alleging that manure and other pollutants were being unlawfully discharged into a farm drain and subsequently into the Red Run Drain, which is a tributary of the Rabbit River.

The compliance measures required by the settlement are expected to stop the illegal discharges.

Under a preliminary settlement with the Sierra Club, the dairy has made several improvements.

Among other things, it has constructed a manure storage lagoon, which allows the dairy to store manure over the winter months rather than spreading it on frozen or snow-covered fields.

These improvements have already resulted in improved water quality in the Red Run Drain.

Walnutdale Farms has more than 700 dairy cattle, which are confined, fed and maintained within several freestall barns.

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