Friends of Toppenish Creek

Our Mission

Friends of Toppenish Creek is dedicated to protecting the rights of rural communities and improving oversight of industrial agriculture. FOTC operates under the simple principle that all people deserve clean air, clean water and protection from abuse that results when profit is favored over people. FOTC works through public education, citizen investigations, research, legislation, special events, and direct action.



The Friends of Toppenish Creek will appeal the certification of the Lower Yakima Valley Groundwater Management Area Program to the WA State Pollution Control Hearings Board on August 24 & 25. 

Here are Opening Briefs 

Friends of Toppenish Creek

The Lower Yakima Valley Groundwater Management Area Program (LYV GWMA Program) fails to reduce nitrates in groundwater because the Program ignores the largest sources of nitrate pollution in the LYV:

1. Over application of manure to cropland, and

2. Leakage from aging manure lagoons that do not meet today’s safety guidelines.

The Friends of Toppenish Creek (FOTC) ask the WA State Pollution Control Hearings Board (PCHB) to order the WA State Dept. of Ecology (Ecology) to withdraw certification of the Program and to take meaningful action to address groundwater pollution in this area. All stakeholders agree that prevention is less costly than treatment. The agencies that signed on to support development of a LYV GWMA in 2010 agreed that, pollution prevention will be a guiding principle for all work done by the coordinating body. 

To continue click here

WA State Dept. of Ecology

The Department of Ecology’s decision to certify the Lower Yakima Valley Groundwater Management Program pursuant to WAC 173-100-120(3) should be affirmed. The Program is fully consistent with the applicable statutes and regulations. In fact, the Program is a major accomplishment—it represents the culmination of thousands of hours of work by dozens of interested stakeholders over a period of seven years. Its recommendations are supported by the consensus of the group—itself a major accomplishment—and by the underlying scientific work undertaken by the group over the years. Once implemented, the Program will help improve groundwater quality in the Lower Yakima Valley.

To continue click here



Comments and Proposed Edits by the Friends of Toppenish Creek regarding the WA State Board of Health proposed revisions to WAC 246-203-130

April 30, 2019

WAC 246-203-130 Keeping of animals.

(1) Any person, firm or corporation is prohibited from keeping or sheltering animals in such a manner that a condition resulting from same shall constitute a nuisance.

(2) In populous districts, stable manure must be kept in a covered watertight pit or chamber and shall be removed at least once a week during the period from April 1st to October 1st and, during the other months, at intervals sufficiently frequent to maintain a sanitary condition satisfactory to the health officer. Manure on farms or isolated premises other than dairy farms need not be so protected and removed unless ordered by the health officer.

(3) Manure shall not be allowed to accumulate in any place where it can prejudicially affect any source of drinking water.


Petition for Revisions by the Washington Association of Conservation Districts in 2009

WACD has been directed by resolution from our Conservation District membership to work with the State Board of Health to amend WAC 246-203-130(2) to read:

(2) In populous districts, stable manure must be managed according to USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Field Office Technical Guide practice standards and specifications.


The WA State Board of Health has researched this topic and has proposed additional, extensive revisions to the code.


Highlights from Friends of Toppenish Creek analysis:

The proposed regulation does not address the proposed changes in the 2009 petition for revisions of WAC 246-203-130

This is a health regulation. It should not be a re-statement of agricultural regulations. It should be based on objective health criteria

Health risks from airborne sources have been ignored in the proposed regulation

The proposed regulation exempts large animal feeding operations (AFO) from regulatory oversight but provides for penalties on small farmers who engage in the same practices. Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) pose a significant threat to human health, especially with respect to air pollution. WSDA does not address human health in dairy nutrient management plans (NMPs). The law does not require dairies to follow their NMPs.

RCW 43.20.050(2)(c) requires the Board of Health (BOH) to address disposal of dead animals. Animal carcasses are composted in manure in Washington State. (Section 6 of Substitute Senate Bill 5602 (SSB 5602), passed by the legislature in 2005). Any regulation that addresses compost must address dead animals in compost

RCW 43.70.310 authorizes the Department of Health (DOH) and the BOH to consult with Ecology. There is no authorization to consult with Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) or the Washington Conservation Commission (WCC)

The proposed rule shifts implementation and enforcement to local health jurisdictions that are not adequately funded

The proposed rule eliminates safeguards that protect sources of drinking water (Section 3 of WAC 246-203-130)

Nuisance is vaguely defined in this proposal. How can citizens prove adverse health effects from a nuisance?

Proposed edits by the Friends of Toppenish Creek


Chapter 246-XXX WAC 






246-XXX-010          Applicability

246-XXX-020          Definitions

246-XXX-030          Minimum Standards

246-XXX-040          Enforcement



WAC 246-XXX-010  Applicability

This chapter, as authorized under powers and duties of the state board of health in RCW 43.20.050, establishes minimum standards to prevent and abate health hazards and nuisance related to the improper or inadequate handling, use, and disposal of animal excreta and animal remains This chapter complements other state laws and rules pertaining to the management of livestock manure and other domestic animal waste.


Practices involving the handling of manure and animal waste are distinct from the disposal of dead livestock and other animals. Due to Section 6 of Substitute Senate Bill 5602 (SSB 5602), passed during the 2005 Washington Legislative session, disposal of dead animals is intimately entwined with composting of dead animals and above ground burial. Practices involving the disposal of dead animals must comply with WAC 246-203-121 and WAC 16-25-025 as well as Chapter 246-XXX WAC .


Poorly managed manure and animal waste ,animal waste and animal remains can adversely affect human health and sanitation by direct or indirect exposure to pathogens, parasites, allergens, pests, and other health hazards. Similarly, poorly managed manure and animal waste ,animal waste and animal remains can create nuisance conditions that interfere with the use or enjoyment of another person’s property or the health and well-being of a community and/or individuals.


This chapter applies to practices involving the handling of waste and manure ,manure and animal remains from all domestic animals that are kept as pets and livestock. The scope includes the feed, bedding, and other litter other litter and animal remains associated with animal keeping. The chapter applies to animal keepers and practices on properties where the animals are reared and fed as well as situations where animals are temporarily on other property or in the temporary care of a custodian. The chapter applies to operations under single or corporate ownership or management that produce and use manure on multiple properties where manure remains under the control of the animal keeper. This chapter also applies to third parties that receive manure and stockpile or compost it.


This chapter does not apply to the off-site transport, handling, storage, or use of manure after the manure leaves the control of the animal keeper. This chapter also does not apply to management practices regulated under the authority and specific intent of the following:

1)   Manure management practices regulated under chapter 90.64 RCW for licensed cow dairies;

2)   Manure management practices regulated under chapter 90.48 RCW and the federal Clean Water Act (33 U.S.C. 1251 et seq.) for permitted concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO).

3)   Manure management practices regulated under chapter 70.94 RCW or chapter 173-400 for air emissions;

4)   Manure management practices meeting requirements of chapter 173-350 WAC for solid waste; and

5)   Manure management practices meeting requirements of chapter 7.48 RCW for nuisance.

For the purpose and intent of this chapter to prevent and abate health hazards and nuisance, management practices that do not meet the minimum standards in WAC 246-XXX-030 may shall be subject to enforcement.



WAC 246-XXX-020  Definitions 

The definitions in this section apply throughout this chapter unless the context clearly indicates otherwise.


Above Ground Burial means the disposal of animal carcasses in compost as described in “On Farm Composting of Animal Mortalities” (Ecology, 2005)

Adverse Public Health Effects means:

Agricultural Exemption means odor or fugitive dust caused by agricultural activity consistent with good agricultural practices on agricultural land are exempt from the requirements of this chapter unless they have a substantial adverse effect on public health RCW 70.94.640

Agricultural wastes means wastes from farms resulting from the raising or growing of plants and animals including, but not limited to, crop residue, livestock manure, animal bedding, and carcasses of dead animals. (from Solid Waste Handling Standards, WAC 173-350-100)

Agronomic rate means the application rate that will provide the amount of nitrogen or other critical nutrient required for optimal growth of vegetation, and that will not result in the violation of applicable standards or requirements for the protection of ground or surface water as established under chapter 90.48 RCW, Water pollution control, and related rules including chapter 173-200 WAC, Water quality standards for groundwaters of the state of Washington, and chapter 173-201A WAC, Water quality standards for surface waters of the state of Washington. (from Solid Waste Handling Standards, WAC 173-350-100

Air Quality Standard means an established concentration, exposure time, and frequency of occurence of an air contaminant or multiple contaminants in the ambient air which shall not be exceeded. (RCW 70.94.030)

Animal excreta means urine and feces from domestic animals. (dictionary)

Animal keeper means the person, persons, or business operation responsible for the daily boarding, feeding, and care of any domestic animal. This includes custodians who may walk, train, board, or otherwise temporarily take responsibility for the care of the animal or animals. (original) 

Animal litter means animal feed, feathers and other animal integument, and material used in animal bedding and housing such as straw, sand, or wood shavings. (adapted from CAFO permit)

Animal waste means urine and feces from domestic animals and includes associated wash water from the collection and cleanup of animal waste. (original and hybrid from sources)

Beneficial use means the use of solid waste as an effective substitute for natural or commercial products, or as a soil amendment, in a manner that does not pose a threat to human health or the environment when approved in accordance with section WAC 173-350-200 or 173-350-230 of this chapter. Use of solid waste as fill, or avoidance of processing or disposal cost alone, does not constitute beneficial use. (WAC 173-250-100)

Community Norms: There is no legal definition for this term

Composting means the biological degradation and transformation of organic solid waste under controlled conditions designed to promote aerobic decomposition. Natural decay of organic solid waste under uncontrolled conditions is not composting. (WAC 173-250-100)

Domestic animal means an animal tamed and kept by humans as a pet animal or as a livestock animal for the purposes of subsistence or profit. (hybrid from dictionary)

Emission means a release of air contaminants into the ambient air. (RCW 70.94.030)

Environmental justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. This goal will be achieved when everyone enjoys:

Implementing agency means any state or local agency that uses and enforces this chapter under authority of RCW 43.20.050. (original)  

Livestock means horses, mules, donkeys, cattle, bison, sheep, goats, swine, rabbits, llamas, alpacas, ratites, poultry, waterfowl, game birds, or other species according to RCW 16.36.005. (from Disposal of Dead Animals, WAC 246-203-121)

Manure means urine and feces from livestock and includes associated wash water from the collection and cleanup of manure. (hybrid from sources.)

Manure management practice means a structural or non-structural method or technique used to safely and effectively manage manure. (hybrid from dictionary and ag definitions)

Nuisance means any action or physical condition that is harmful to the health of another person, is indecent or offensive to the senses, or interferes with another person’s reasonable use and enjoyment of their property. (hybrid from RCW 7.48.010 and AllLaw)

Nuisance consists in unlawfully doing an act, or omitting to perform a duty, which act or omission either annoys, injures or endangers the comfort, repose, health or safety of others, offends decency, or unlawfully interferes with, obstructs or tends to obstruct, or render dangerous for passage, any lake or navigable river, bay, stream, canal or basin, or any public park, square, street or highway; or in any way renders other persons insecure in life, or in the use of property. (RCW 7.48.120 Nuisance Defined)

Pet means a domestic animal kept for human companionship or pleasure. (hybrid from dictionary)

Pet animal waste means urine and feces from pet animals.

Public health means the health and well-being of people and communities. (hybrid from dictionary)

Public health is the science of protecting and improving the health of people and their communities. (CDC Foundation)

Public health – Ten essential services:

  1. Monitor health status to identify and solve community health problems
  2. Diagnose and investigate health problems and health hazards in the community
  3. Inform, educate, and empower people about health issues
  4. Mobilize community partnerships and action to identify and solve health problems
  5. Develop policies and plans that support individual and community health efforts
  6. Enforce laws and regulations that protect health and ensure safety
  7. Link people to needed personal health services and assure the provision of health care when otherwise unavailable
  8. Assure competent public and personal health care workforce
  9. Evaluate effectiveness, accessibility, and quality of personal and population-based health services
  10. Research for new insights and innovative solutions to health problem (Center for Disease Control

Sanitation means hygienic conditions pertaining to the safe management of human sewage, animal waste, and solid waste to ensure clean living conditions and food and water supplies. (hybrid from dictionary)

Toxic air pollutant (TAP) means any toxic air pollutant listed in WAC 173-460-150.

Zoonotic means infectious diseases that are spread between animals and people. (CDC One Health)


WAC 246-XXX-030 Minimum Standards

This section establishes minimum standards for the collection, storage, use and disposal of animal waste, livestock manure, and associated animal litter, and dead animals. Animal keepers must meet the following standards unless superseded by other state or local codes that apply more stringent standards. Use of the standards must also account for manure management practices that are tailored to specific site conditions and documented in conservation farm plans and certified dairy nutrient management plans.

1)   Pet animal waste:

a)    Collect pet animal waste at least weekly to prevent accumulation as a nuisance or health hazard.

b)    Immediately pick up and properly dispose of pet animal waste deposited on public property or on another person’s private property.

c)    Never pile, compost, or reuse pet animal waste.

d)    Store pet animal waste in a watertight container if held prior to disposal.


2)   Livestock manure:

a)    Collect manure at a rate sufficient to prevent accumulation as a nuisance or health hazard.

b)    Store manure (stockpile, dry stack, liquid, or compost) with the following minimum horizontal setbacks:

i)     100 feet from a drinking water well or other drinking water source.

ii)   100 feet from a surface water feature such as a drainage ditch, pond, or stream.

iii) 35 feet from adjacent property and public right-of-way.

i)        300 feet from a drinking water well or other drinking water source (Ecology – On Farm Composting of Animal Mortalities)

ii)      300 feet from a surface water feature such as a drainage ditch, pond, or stream. (Ecology – On Farm Composting of Animal Mortalities)

iii)    Composting activities may not adversely impact groundwater resources and should not occur in areas with seasonally high groundwater unless conducted on an impervious surface with leachate collection and means to prevent stormwater run-on. (Ecology – On Farm Composting of Animal Mortalities)

iv)    Setbacks may, after careful study by regulators, be reduced for well-maintained manure lagoons that are double lined with synthetic materials that have proven ability to prevent leaching to groundwater

c)    Prevent manure deposition, drift, and runoff onto adjacent property, public right-of-way, drinking water well or other source, and surface water feature such as a drainage ditch, pond, or stream.

d)    Remove and properly apply or dispose of stockpiled manure at least annually;

e)    Manage and contain stockpiled manure to minimize prevent leaching and runoff and to control odors, flies, rodents, and other pests.

f)     Apply manure to fields at agronomic rates and under appropriate conditions and timing to avoid leaching to groundwater and runoff to surface water.

g)      Prohibit all dispersal and land application of manure and effluent during any burn ban. This prohibition extends to all forms of manure and effluent, including but not limited to liquid, solid, and slurry manure and to all methods of application, including but not limited to sprinklers, flooding, ground injection, spreading and vehicular dispersal.

3)      Manure shall not be allowed to accumulate in any place where it can prejudicially affect any source of drinking water. (WAC 246-203-130 (3)


WAC 246-XXX-040  Enforcement

The Board anticipates use and enforcement of this chapter mainly by local agencies via local codes applied primarily to smaller-scale activities and operations that generally do not involve intensive animal production and liquid manure handling. However, where there are clear violations of the standards, the chapter may be applied to larger-scale operations in collaboration with the Washington State Department of Ecology, Washington State Department of Agriculture, or local air authority as appropriate. In addition, these regulatory agencies may independently apply and enforce provisions of this chapter under authority of RCW 43.20.050. Local health officers may assist with and help facilitate enforcement of this chapter.

The Board intends that this regulation will apply to all keepers of animals. The Board intends that this regulation will be enforceable at the local level when resources are available. If those resources are inadequate state level enforcement is required. Criteria for complaint, inspection and enforcement shall be based on nuisance and health impacts and applied equally to all Washingtonians.

Implementing agencies must work cooperatively with animal keepers to address problem practices and assist with compliance. If unsuccessful, progressive enforcement may shall follow to achieve compliance.

Implementing agencies may provide technical assistance directly to animal keepers to address and correct violations under this chapter. Implementing agencies may also call upon the expertise or refer animal keepers to local conservation districts or other appropriate agencies or institutions for technical assistance with management practices and farm conservation planning.

Following written notice of a violation and failure of voluntary action to correct a problem, implementing agencies may must initiate enforcement against an animal keeper to correct a violation by using one or more of the following options, which include, but are not limited to:

1)   A meeting with the animal keeper to explore facts and resolve problems;

2)   A notice of correction;

3)   A notice of violation;

4)   An agency order; or

5)   Civil penalties; or

6)   Criminal Penalties in the case of death or significant disease due to mismanagement of manure

Incidents involving pet waste violations under WAC 246-XXX-030(1)(b) may be addressed immediately and directly using civil penalties.

Implementing agencies must report surface and ground water discharges of manure-contaminated runoff to the Washington State Department of Ecology for further investigation and possible permitting under the Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) General National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permit. Implementing agencies must report significant air pollution beyond property lines to the Washington State Department of Ecology or Local Clean Air Agencies for further investigation.


Support for FOTC Suggested Edits


Areas where FOTC agrees with other BOH meeting participants


Areas of Concern


Legal Issues

Public Health Issues related to Keeping of Animals



Some of the agencies at the table have failed to fulfill their mandated duties to protect the air and water. The argument that current regulations are adequate to protect public health is erroneous.





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Friends of Toppenish Creek Minority Report for the Lower Yakima Valley Groundwater Management Area


To read Addendums to the Minority Report click on Events above

Para leer el Resumen Ejectivo en Espanol haga clic aqui

The GWAC approved plan is available at

FOTC Minority Report - Executive Summary


Friends of Toppenish Creek is a 501(C) 3 non-profit environmental group that has been part of the Lower Yakima Valley Groundwater Management Area (LYV GWMA) since the beginning in 2012.


Friends of Toppenish Creek is dedicated to protecting the rights of rural communities and improving oversight of industrial agriculture. FOTC operates under the simple principle that all people deserve clean air, clean water and protection from abuse that results when profit is favored over people. FOTC works through public education, citizen investigations, research, legislation, special events, and direct action.


FOTC files this report because the LYV GWMA has failed to deliver on promises to reduce nitrates in groundwater. In 2010, according to Lower Yakima Valley Groundwater Quality; Preliminary Assessment and Recommendations, about 12% of wells in the LYV had nitrate levels above the safety standard of 10 mg/L. In the last round of GWMA sampling 20% of wells had nitrate levels above the standard.


Here are more specific reasons for a Minority Report:


1. The GWMA has not complied with the mandates in WAC 173-100-090(1) and WAC 173-100-100(6)


2. The dairy industry has maintained veto power over any and all GWMA actions. Advocates for dairy have controlled the agenda and marginalized other voices on the GWMA advisory committee (GWAC).


3. The GWMA leadership has failed to provide adequate research that is necessary in order for the GWAC to do the work. The GWMA has missed almost every deadline.


4. The GWMA gathered data and then, failed to analyze the data. The GWMA did no analysis of Deep Soil Sampling data, High Risk Well testing results, composting data, sampling of domestic wells and drains, or responses to a survey of public understanding.


5. GWMA contractors have not complied with the terms of their contracts. There were no consequences. A Nitrogen Availability Assessment was supposed to be the center piece of GWMA problem solving.  It arrived 18 months late. The authors ignored bio-solids and waste water spray-fields, ignored the GWMA Deep Soil Sampling, ignored inputs from animals on pasture, ignored composting yards, failed to do a promised literature review and incorrectly stated that there is no leaching from alfalfa fields. They ignored nitrogen runoff to surface waters.


6. The GWMA has not addressed the impact of groundwater pollution on the health and well-being of the people who live in the Lower Yakima Valley. The GWAC has ignored Environmental Justice.


7. The GWMA has used up $2.3 million and left the program with no funds for implementation and no road map for how to obtain funds.






 In 2008 reporter Leah Beth Ward wrote a series of award winning reports entitled Hidden Wells, Dirty Water for the Yakima Herald Republic. Ward interviewed people who were afraid to drink water from their domestic wells and encountered difficulties when they went to authorities for information and assistance. She asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to investigate.


The EPA began sampling water in the area and convened meetings where residents and other stakeholders discussed ways to address the emerging problems. That group recommended formation of a GWMA and Yakima County asked to be designated as the lead agency in a 2011 Request for Identification Lower Yakima Valley Groundwater Management Area. Very few of the Goals and Objectives in that document have been achieved.


The Nitrate Problem


Nitrate contamination of groundwater is a world-wide problem that has grown over the last century due to an increasing population; man-made changes to the nitrogen cycle due to manufacture of chemical fertilizers; and an increase in confined animal feeding operations. Washington State ranks 12th in the nation for the percentage of the land surface with groundwater nitrates > 5 mg/L.  Nitrates pose a health risk to animals and to people, especially babies.


California, with severe water quality problems, spends millions of dollars every year on groundwater. There is no end in sight.  In 2008 that state commissioned the University of California at Davis to study nitrates in drinking water. The LYV GWMA relied heavily on data from this comprehensive study while, at the same time, acknowledging that conditions in California and other impacted areas are different from those in the Yakima Valley.


In the Lower Yakima Valley the number of contaminated wells is increasing and the level of contamination is increasing. Here is a chart adapted from the GWMA Data Base that illustrates the trends:




(Since those readings are missing from the data base this graph does not include 2014 – 2016 well testing from a “dairy cluster” where 61% of domestic wells one mile down gradient had nitrate levels above the safety standard of 10 mg/L. and the highest reading was 234 mg/L.)


GWMA Actions


Early in the process the GWAC agreed upon the need for foundational work in order to analyze local issues. There was consensus on the importance of education and public outreach, a baseline survey of public understanding, an early Area Characterization, Deep Soil Sampling, a Network of Groundwater Monitoring Wells, and a Nitrogen Loading Assessment.


Public Outreach: In 2013 Education and Public Outreach (EPO) created a public survey that was carried out by students from Heritage University. The EPO group worked with EPA’s Pediatric Environmental Health Services Unit (PEHSU) on a program to inform new mothers in the valley about the risks from using well water to mix baby formula. The EPO group facilitated free well water testing for 460 homes, presented bi-lingual material at five health fairs, supported radio presentations in English and Spanish and purchased billboard space that advised people to have their well water tested.


Deep Soil Sampling: Deep Soil Sampling was performed in fall 2014, spring 2015, fall 2015 and spring 2016. Both Ecology and FOTC analyzed the data in 2017-2018 but these analyses were never shared with or accepted by the GWAC. For this data set FOTC found:



High Risk Well Assessment: Between 2013 and 2016, on behalf of the GWMA, the Yakima Health District tested 460 domestic wells in order to better understand the prevalence of nitrate contamination of the aquifer. This High Risk Well study found:



A survey of conditions at well sites that was supposed to accompany the High Risk Well Assessment was not completed.


Network of Monitoring Wells: Since 2013 the GWAC has studied plans for a network of purpose built monitoring wells. In January, 2017 the Pacific Groundwater Group signed a contract to oversee the installation of these wells. The county did not sign the contract until January, 2018. In early 2017 the U.S. Geological Survey signed a contract to sample those wells and test for nitrates. The terms of that contract have expired.  As of October, 2018 there were no wells, no network and no plans for how to analyze the data if/when samples are collected. The GWAC discussed this topic over eight times during the past six years and repeatedly approved plans for groundwater monitoring.


Nitrogen Loading Assessment: The GWAC agreed on the need for a Nitrogen Loading Assessment, a mathematical approach to nitrogen balance in the target area, in order to determine the contribution from various sources and to prioritize response strategies. The Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) and Yakima County agreed to complete an NLA for the GWMA with a due date of December, 2015.


The NLA did not arrive until April, 2017. By then it was renamed a Nitrogen Availability Assessment (NAA). WSDA and Yakima County did not follow the Scope of Work (SOW) for the study. Nitrogen inputs were missing for alfalfa fields, industrial spray fields, bio-solids and compost yards. Nitrogen runoff to the surface waters was ignored.


2017 Testing of Domestic Wells: Every two months during 2017 the USGS tested about 156 domestic wells and 24 agricultural drains in the target area on behalf of the GWMA. The data was shared with the GWAC but there was no evaluation. FOTC performed an analysis but our work was never discussed or approved by the GWAC.


Here are average nitrate levels for five areas in the GWMA:



Proposed Solutions: In mid-2017 the GWMA leadership introduced over 250 proposed solutions to the nitrate problem, in spite of the fact that there was: no Area Characterization, no analysis of High Risk Well Testing, no analysis of the Deep Soil Sampling, no Nitrogen Loading Assessment and no Network of Monitoring Wells. Throughout the last half of 2017 the GWAC focused on refining this list.


FOTC finds the process to be very flawed. For example, the initial list contained seven strategies that target domestic septic systems but no strategies that targeted composting operations or atmospheric deposition of nitrogen.


GWMA Plan: The most recent GWMA timeline called for an approved plan by June, 2018. This would allow time for a State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) review and public hearings on the plan before the GWMA contract expires in December, 2018.  Once again, the deadline has passed.


For these reasons FOTC now offers an alternate GWMA Plan based on the last six years of work and our participation. We have included an important section entitled, What Will Happen If We Do Nothing? This is required by WAC 173-100-100(2).  We suggest measureable goals and objectives along with a draft plan for evaluation. Please understand the limitations involved when a small group with few resources undertakes this work


Problem Definition


Between 12% and 20% of wells in the Lower Yakima Valley have nitrate levels > 10 mg/L. The problem is not evenly distributed across the valley. More wells in the southern portion of the GWMA target area are contaminated than those in the northwestern area. The highest groundwater nitrate concentrations are down gradient from dairies.


Contributing factors are groundwater flow, depth to groundwater, soil characteristics, weather patterns, housing density, disposal of industrial and municipal wastes, and agricultural practices including: crop types, irrigation practices, fertilization, maintenance of lagoons/ponds, volatilization from production areas and cropland.


In recent years the problem has expanded from shallow and aging domestic wells to deeper municipal wells. Since the early 2000’s the City of Grandview has monitored nitrate levels in its municipal wells closely and has blended water from several wells in order to deliver safe drinking water. In 2013 the City of Mabton drilled a new $1.85 million well to replace older wells that were troubled with decreasing water pressure and elevated nitrates.


FOTC Analysis of the Problem


Area Characterization: The GWMA target area extends along the Yakima River Valley from Union Gap in the north to the Yakima/Benton County line in the east.  The western border is the Yakima River/eastern boundary of the Yakama Reservation. The outermost occupied parcels, down gradient from the Rattlesnake Hills and the Horse Heaven Hills form the northern and southern borders.


Soil is mostly composed of rich sediments that include Touchet Beds, loess and thick alluvial sands and gravels, and significant thickness of Ellensburg Formation. Half of the target area lies in the Toppenish Sedimentary Basin and half in the Benton Sedimentary Basin. Rainfall averages seven inches per year.


Agriculture is the driving force behind the local economy. Irrigation from the Sunnyside and Roza Irrigation Districts serves about 96,000 acres of rich farmland. Major crops are apples, corn, triticale, grapes, alfalfa, cherries, mint, hops, wheat and asparagus. Since the late 1980’s dairying has assumed an ever increasing importance in the agricultural community. Over the past twenty five years the number of milk cows has increased at a rate of almost 3,000 per year. Increases in land planted in corn and forage have accompanied this trend.


The population is about 70% Latino and is much younger than average for Yakima County or for the state. Many people are recent immigrants who speak English less than well. About 20% of the population lives below the poverty level and slightly over half have a high school diploma. Because the population is often non-mainstream and because pollution issues are prominent the potential for Environmental Injustice is high in the GWMA.


The Yakama Nation has highlighted the impact of climate change on the valley. The USGS has documented declining water tables in the basalt aquifers. Groundwater from shallow aquifers in the LYV flows toward the Yakima River and is a major contributor to instream flows that are protected by treaties. The Yakima River Basin Integrated Water Resource Management Plan is intensely involved in seeking solutions to problems caused by over-allocation of this precious and limited resource.


Knowledge Gaps: Based on GWMA discussions over the past five years, FOTC perceives the following knowledge gaps:



Regulatory Gaps: Based on GWMA discussions over the past five years, FOTC perceives the following regulatory gaps:



What Will Happen If We Do Nothing? Groundwater quality in the LYV GWMA is worsening. Current efforts to address the problem are not working. If we do nothing different the future will bring falling aquifers with increasingly polluted water. Costs to future tax payers, our children, will escalate.


Goals & Objectives


FOTC believes that GWMA Goals and Objectives must be framed so that change can be measured. With this in mind we suggest the following:


Overarching Goal:   Reduce Nitrates in Lower Yakima Valley Groundwater to Safe Levels of < 10 mg/L


Pollution prevention will be a guiding principle


1. Everyone who lives in the LYV will have access to safe and affordable drinking water. No one will pay more than 2% of their income for bottled water.

2. People who live in the Lower Yakima Valley will be engaged and involved in programs to reduce nitrates in groundwater

3. There will be no more “bureaucratic runaround”. When people call authorities they will receive accurate and helpful information.

4. The LYV aquifers will show decreasing nitrate levels beginning in 2020. The aquifers will reach safe levels by 2040

5. Soil nitrate levels below the root zone on LYV cropland will be < 15 ppm

6. There will be no leaching of nitrate below animal pens & corrals, lagoons & ponds, or compost yards

7. Volatilization of nitrogen from production areas and cropland will be quantified and controlled

8. Costs for cleanup of the LYV aquifers will be borne by those who pollute


Agencies and stakeholders have attempted to turn around the trend toward increasing nitrates in LYV groundwater since the 1990’s. Efforts to date, including the work of the LYV GWMA, have failed.

The largest contributor to groundwater nitrates in the LYV is animal agriculture, namely CAFO dairies. FOTC firmly believes that the most cost effective way to solve the nitrate problem is to control the number of cows in the area.