By Christina Calloway
PNT senior writer
Dairymen felt their input wasn’t heard before, but earlier this week the New Mexico Water Quality Control Commission voted to set a hearing in March 2014 to give them a platform to voice their concerns regarding groundwater discharge rules that affect them.
The rules, set in December 2010 by the commission as mandated by the Legislature, specify discharge regulations for dairy and copper mining industries. The goal is to prevent water pollution and protect water quality.
Dairy industry officials agree that rules need to be set in place to protect groundwater New Mexicans consume. A few of the rules, however, place constraints on dairymen and they want to be able to propose options that will still meet the requirements of the commission’s rules.
“The dairy industry actually wants these rules and the reason we do is because without specific rules, there’s no consistency that the dairymen can follow in knowing what he has to do to protect groundwater,” said Walter Bradley, a representative of the government and business relations department of New Mexico’s Dairy Farmers of America.
Bradley of Clovis said the rules were drafted in such a way that once they were passed, there were a number of changes that needed to be made to make them consistent.
One example he gave was how dairymen line lagoons, areas where runoff water goes.
“There are several ways that you can line a lagoon to protect groundwater and we want to make sure that all of those options are available to us,” Bradley said. “We were told what to do and we weren’t given any options.”
He said in many cases, the rules they had to abide by to meet requirements were costly. Other alternatives would achieve the same goals, he said.
The commission endorsed the New Mexico Environment Department conducting a stakeholder advisory process on the changes to the rules prior to the March hearing, according to a New Mexico Environmental Law Center press release,
The law center with assistance from the Socially Responsible Agricultural Project (SRAP), represents client that include the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club and Amigos Bravos. Both organizations are opposed to the changes.
“Our clients are cautiously optimistic about the Environment Department’s decision to advocate for conducting a stakeholder advisory process,” said Jon Block, NMELC staff attorney, in the press release. “Now it’s at least possible to work toward changes to the regulations so that our scarce and precious water resources will be protected from pollution by these mega dairies.”
Albin Smith, who owns dairies in Curry and Roosevelt counties, agreed with Bradley that rules are not the issue. Dairymen just want to have a say.
“Our biggest rub is that we weren’t involved in the process of drafting these new rules,” Smith said. “I think (the hearing) would be a better deal so we’re encouraged. We’re looking forward to meeting with them.”