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Public Justice’s Change Maker Award: The Yakima Valley Dairy Cases

July 28, 2016

TMLG attorneys Beth Terrell, Toby Marshall, and Blythe Chandler were honored to be part of the legal team receiving Public Justice’s Change Maker Award at the Public Justice Annual Gala on July 24, 2016 for their work on the Yakima Valley Dairy Cases. The announcement was accompanied by the premiere of a short documentary film (above) about the case and its impact on the dairy industry and the Yakima Valley community.

In a landmark settlement announced in May 2015, four Washington State dairies agreed to implement sweeping changes in their operations following a series of lawsuits. The dairies had been contaminating local groundwater supplies in the Lower Yakima Valley, Washington community, dumping millions of gallons of manure that was stored in unlined lagoons onto crop fields. Leakage from the lagoons and over application of manure to fields contaminated the soil and aquifier below.

Under the terms of the settlement, the dairies must now provide clean drinking water to Yakima Valley residents with polluted water. The dairies also agreed to drastically change their operations in ways intended to stop future contamination to the area’s water supply. Each dairy must now install double liners in all manure lagoons to stop leakage, limit manure applications to crop fields, and also make other operational changes. They are also now subject to additional groundwater monitoring.

The settlement followed a January 2015 ruling, for the first time, that manure from industrial farms should be regulated as solid waste. In that ruling, the Court held that the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), which governs the disposal of solid and hazardous waste, applied to animal waste from such facilities, too.

“People in the impacted zone will now have safe alternative water until the groundwater poisons go away, which could be a long time,” said plaintiff Helen Reddout. “It is now time for the responsible agencies to stop the rest of the dairies in the Valley from causing pollution.”

TMLG partner Toby Marshall said, “TMLG is proud to have been part of the great team of community organizations and lawyers who worked hard to ensure that Yakima Valley residents have the clean water and land they deserve. Large dairies must operate in a manner that protects both human and environmental health. The settlements obtained in these cases will bring the change necessary to achieve that goal in Yakima, and we hope this sets a new national standard for the industry.”

The legal team behind this incredible victory:

Jessica Culpepper, Public Justice Food Safety & Health Attorney
Beth Terrell, Toby Marshall, and Blythe Chandler, Terrell Marshall Law Group, PLLC
Charlie Tebbutt, Daniel Snyder, and Sarah Matsumoto, Law Offices of Charles M. Tebbutt, P.C.
Brad J. Moore, Stritmatter Kessler Whelan Koehler Moore Kahler
Elisabeth Holmes, formerly of The Center for Food Safety
George Kimbrell, The Center for Food Safety

Find recent news concerning this case and non-compliance here: