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.


For Years of Service in the Cause of Water in Washington State

Presentation of a Pendleton Blanket to Rachael Paschal Osborne by Wendell Hannigan of the Yakama Nation. D.R. Michel from the Upper Columbia United Tribes joins the ceremony.




EPA Presentation: Dairy Cluster in Lower Yakima



Lower Valley GWMA Budget Discussion Video Series
Part 1 of 6

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We are not all treated the same: What about Yakima County?


     We want to take this opportunity to describe health related and other disparities in Washington State so that you will have a clearer picture of the challenges people face in Yakima County. Due to a certain similarity in the environmental issues involved we will compare Yakima County with Whatcom County. Please know that environmentalists in the Yakima Valley believe that many of our problems are due to the fact that there are simply too many cows in too small an area. 38% of the state’s dairy cows are confined in Yakima County to a 512 square mile area. Yakima is the state’s largest dairy county with 120,000 to 130,000 milk cows while Whatcom is number two with slightly over 60,000 milk cows.


     Although dairy products are the second leading agriculture commodity in Washington the benefits come at a cost. Everyone wants ice cream but no one wants the associated waste piled up next door. Pollution and health risks from dairy confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) disproportionately affect poor and minority people of the Yakima Valley. For example, rates of infection with Campylobacter jejuni, a bacteria that is prevalent and asymptomatic in cattle, are 2 – 3 times higher in Yakima County compared with the state average and 25 times the state average in a zip code area with many dairies.


      Recently, in the tri-county area Yakima, Benton and Franklin, there has been a spike in the number of newborns with anencephaly, a uniformly fatal birth defect in which part of the brain is missing (WA State Dept. of Health, 2014). California research suggests a link to nitrate levels in drinking water that is strikingly similar to the situation here (Croen, 2001). Along the same lines a team from the University of Washington demonstrated a link between gastroschisis, a condition in which the intestines are outside the abdominal wall at birth, and the herbicide Atrazine based on a high rate of this defect in babies born in the Yakima Valley (Waller et al, 2010).


     We will show that, in spite of legislation to address disparities, various state agencies do not dedicate equal resources to Yakima County.




     Public health relies heavily on statistics in order to prioritize and effectively address major health problems. There is a data base at the University of Wisconsin that ranks counties in each state with respect to Health Outcomes and Health Factors (County Health Rankings, n.d.). According to this analysis Whatcom County ranks number five in the state for outcomes while Yakima County ranks 35 out of 39 for outcomes.


     The people of Yakima County are younger, less educated and poorer than the people of Whatcom County. In some rural towns over 80% of the population is Hispanic and most people do not speak English at home. A family man who works long hours in the fields, is unfamiliar with local customs and struggles with English will have difficulty understanding that he has recourse when a neighbor piles manure next to his home. He is more likely to understand the possibility of retaliation and loss of employment if he complains.



   Highlights from the 2010 Census




Under 18




HS Graduate

Median Home Value

Per Capita Income

Persons Below Poverty












































One man came to a Ground Water Management Area (GWMA) meeting because a dairy neighbor allowed manure to flow onto his property. The Yakima Health District chose to condemn his property and took no action against the dairy (LYV GWMA, 2013 a).  The Roza-Sunnyside Irrigation District gave permission to a dairy to dig a ditch onto another man’s land without even asking him. It took a strong effort to convince that agency that they did not have this authority and to force the dairy to repair the land (LYV GWMA, 2013 b). Although WAC 246-272A-0210 says that domestic septic systems should not be located within 100 feet of domestic wells, dairies in the lower Yakima Valley have placed large waste water lagoons and huge compost piles closer than 100 feet to neighboring homes and wells (Finn, 2013; Washington State Dairy Federation, 2013).     

WA State Dept. of Health and the Local Health District


     The Yakima Health District (YHD) has the fewest employees and the lowest revenue per person of any health district or health department in the state. In 2008 YHD had an approved budget of $5.9 million and a 2009 draft budget of $6.2 million (Yakima Health District, 2008). In 2013 YHD had a budget of $3.6 million and a 2014 proposed budget of $3.5 million (Yakima Health District, 2013). Whatcom County has three times as many public health workers per person and 4.6 times the revenue per person. This makes a difference. There are those who suggest that more local resources should be dedicated to public health. This may be true but the State of Washington spends 4.7 more dollars per person in Whatcom County compared with Yakima. As noted in the County Health Rankings, the needs in Yakima County far exceed those in Whatcom County. YHD employees are asked to do three times as much work with less support.



   Delivery of Public Health Services to Yakima County & Whatcom County
























$    15.49

$    16.69

$       6.09

$       4.56

$       6.03










$    79.61

$    79.61

$    28.77

$    10.18

$    40.65



WA State Dept. of Ecology


     As noted above, Yakima County has approximately twice as many dairy cows as Whatcom County. The effectiveness of dairy waste management determines how many pollutants reach the ground and surface water and the ambient air. The Department of Ecology has the task of monitoring pollution and protecting the environment.  Monitoring, research and enforcement of dairy CAFOs are shared with the Department of Agriculture.


     Weather, soil and water conditions are not the same in western Washington and eastern Washington. Research in one area does not apply to practice in another. For example, surface runoff of newly applied manure is a major problem in Whatcom County where annual precipitation is 36 inches. In western Washington the risks due to runoff are so great that the WSDA Nutrient Management Program (n.d.) has instituted a Manure Spreading Advisory (MSA) based on a 72 hour weather forecast. This is not done, nor is it needed, in Yakima County where annual precipitation is 7 inches. However, this does not justify neglecting the arid parts of the state where different conditions exist; where 70% of the state’s large dairies are located.


     When the WA State Department of Ecology first addressed potential groundwater contamination in the 1980’s there was considerable research in the eastern side of the state. When we only look at research and reports from Yakima and Whatcom Counties, 39% of the work was done in Yakima County and 61% in Whatcom County during the years 1985 to 1999. Between 2000 and 2014 the disparity increased to 23% in Yakima County and 77% in Whatcom County. Looking at the most recent five years, 2009 to 2014, only 15% of research was done in Yakima County and 85% in Whatcom.  In fact, much of the research that the Department of Ecology lists was done by other agencies and groups. For example the Valley Institute for Research and Education study from 2002 resulted from the settlement of a lawsuit over major pollution of the Granger drain that feeds the lower Yakima River (Sells & Knutson, 2002). The 2010 and 2012 Environmental Protection agency studies were done at the request of concerned citizens and were funded by the federal government (EPA, 2013). Whatcom County is studied much more than Yakima County in spite of the fact that Yakima has twice as many dairy cows. 



Groundwater Studies and Reports in Yakima & Whatcom County



Total Groundwater Studies/Reports

Lagoon Studies

Manure Application Studies

Total Study/Report

1985 - 1999

Total Study/Report

2000 - 2014


Total Studies/Reports

2009 to 2014









18 (31%)

1 (25%)

0 (0%)

11 (39%)

7 (23%

2 (15%)









40 (69%

3 (75%)

5 (100%)

17 (61%)

23 (77%)

11 (85%)



WA State Dept. of Agriculture


     Washington lawmakers are well aware of the potential to pollute within the dairy industry. For this reason there is separate and extensive legislation to address the problem, RCW 90.64. This legislation created the WSDA Nutrient Management Program, a $1.2 million per year branch of WSDA, designed to monitor diaries and encourage best management practices (BMPs). Although 70% of large dairies are now located on the eastern side of the state; although Yakima County has twice as many dairy cows as Whatcom County, there are two dairy inspectors for the northwest part of the state, one for the Puget Sound area and one for the entire eastern part of the state. Every 22 months inspectors spend about three days conducting announced inspections in eastern Washington.


     One of the major causes of groundwater pollution related to dairy CAFOs is over application of manure fertilizer. This leads to leaching of nitrates into the groundwater. In Yakima County 11.9% of the land that dairies own and use for manure application is over applied. This compares to 1.6% for the remainder of the state. 63.8% of all dairy owned land that is at risk is located in Yakima County. 38% of the state’s milk cows are confined in Yakima County. Nevertheless, only 15.7% of routine inspections are done here and only 8.9% of other inspections are done here. No orders have been issued here since 2004 and only 11% of all penalties are issued here.  As noted above surface runoff is a problem in the west side of the state. This attracts public attention. WSDA and Ecology address spills into streams in the Puget Sound area but ignore contamination that reaches the groundwater and ultimately the Yakima River in our valley.  



Inspection of Dairies in Yakima County and Washington State (Adapted from PP Presentation by Virginia (Ginny) Prest, WSDA, January 2014)



# Cows


Routine Inspections

(2004 – 2013)

Other Inspections

(2004 – 2013)


(2004 – 2013)

Warning Letters

(2004 – 2013)

Notice of Correction

(2004 – 2013)


(2004 – 2013)


(2004 – 2013)

Acres with over applied manure












Yakima County










% Yakima County











Note: Current estimates put the number of dairy cows in Yakima County at 120,000 to 130,000. According to WSDA the number of milk cows has increased by 2,500 per year since 2006 and the total number of cows has increased by 4,000 per year. According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service Yakima County had a positive nitrogen balance, or excess nitrogen > 2,000,000 pounds, in the year 1997 when there were only 60,000 milk cows here.


     Thank you for taking the time to read and consider this information.


Friends of Toppenish Creek




County Health Rankings (n.d.) County Health Rankings and Roadmaps – Washington State. Available at


Croen, L.A., Todoroff, K. & Shaw, G.M. (2001) Maternal Exposure to Nitrate from Drinking Water and Diet and Risk for Neural Tube Defects. American Journal of Epidemiology 153 (4). 325 – 331. Available at


Finn, M. (2013) 'Potential to pollute,' several Yakima dairies investigated by state. KIMA Television. Available at


Lower Yakima Valley Groundwater Management Area (2013 a) Meeting Summary, March 21, 2013. Available at


Lower Yakima Valley Groundwater Management Area (2013 b) Meeting Summary, August 15, 2013. Available at


Natural Resources Conservation Service (2000) Manure Nutrients Relative to the Capacity of Cropland and Pastureland to Assimilate Nutrients: Spatial and Temporal Trends for the United States. Retrieved from


Prest, V. (2014) Dairy nutrient management program. Washington State Department of Agriculture. Available at


Sells, R. & Knutson, L. (2002) Quality of Groundwater in Private Wells in the Lower Yakima Valley, 2001 – 2002). Valley Institute for Research and Education. Retrieved from


U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (2013) Relation between Nitrate in Water Wells and Potential Sources in the Lower Yakima Valley, Washington.  Retrieved from


Waller, S.A., Paul, K., Peterson, S.E., & Hitti, J.E. (2010) Agricultural-related chemical exposures, season of conception, and risk of gastroschisis in Washington State. American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology 202 (3).  Available at


Washington State Dairy Federation (2013) Minutes: Washington State Dairy Federation Board of Directors Meeting Thursday, June 27, 2013 Holiday Inn, Everett. Available at


Washington State Department of Agriculture (n.d.) Manure Spreading Advisory. Available at


Washington State Department of Agriculture (n.d.) Nutrient Management Program. Available at


Washington State Department of Health (2014) Anencephaly Investigation. Available at


Yakima Health District (2008) Minutes from the November 26, 2008 meeting of the Yakima Board of Health.


Yakima Health District (2013) Minutes from the October 30, 2013 meeting of the Yakima Board of Health.













Lower Valley GWMA Budget Discussion

September 17, 2014 - The Lower Yakima Valley Groundwater Management Area was created in 2012 to address pollution of groundwater with nitrates. Various studies have found that 12% t0 20% of wells in the area have nitrates higher than the safe level -10mg/L. In the interest of keeping the public well informed, Friends of the Toppenish Creek will post videos of the ground water management committee meetings. These videos are from August 21, 2014, recorded at Radio KDNA in Granger WA. The purpose of this meeting was to... Read More »

Chief Sealth's Words

August 06, 2012 - Chief Sealth's Words - 1854
Yonder sky that has wept tears of compassion upon my people for centuries untold, and which to us appears changeless and eternal, may change. Today is fair. Tomorrow it may be overcast with clouds.
My words are like the stars that never change. Whatever Seattle says, the great chief at Washington can rely upon with as much certainty as he can upon the return of the sun or the seasons.
The white chief says that Big Chief at Washington sends us greetings of friendship ... Read More »

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