The State Water Resources Board in Sacramento voted Thursday to deny permission for a Ramona dairy farmer to expand his herd by 1,200 cows because the move would have a “significant adverse effect” on the local ground-water supply.
By a 5-0 vote, the board adopted a staff recommendation made earlier this month to halt the expansion proposed by Ramona farmer John Van Tol because wastes generated by the additional cows would add to the nitrates and salts in the underground wells of neighbors.
The board vote overturns a decision last November to allow the expansion by Van Tol, who already operates a 400-acre dairy farm with 675 cows.
At that time, the board waived a requirement for an environmental impact study and imposed 13 conditions on the expansion, including the requirement that Van Tol use “best management practices” in disposing of the cow dung and wash water from the stalls.
But residents living in single-family homes near the dairy appealed, saying the added wastes would further degrade a ground-water supply already troubled by high concentrations of nitrates and salts.
Many Ramona residents depend on the ground water for drinking and bathing.
Tests have shown that ground water near the dairy already measures 76.5 to 369 parts per million. The allowable limit for drinking water is 45 p.p.m.
Health experts say a high concentration of nitrates, which are derived from the nitrogen in human and animal excrement, can cause “blue baby” syndrome in infants 6 months or younger.
Water Over Milk
Carol Close, who lives 2 miles uphill from the dairy and spearheaded the drive against the expansion, said Thursday that she was glad the state board decided that the “importance of water outweighs the production of milk.”
Van Tol was unavailable for comment Thursday. His wife, Gertie, said he and his sons were in Utah on a hunting expedition.
Before the board’s decision Thursday, representatives of San Diego County dairy farmers warned that a ruling against Van Tol would be the “beginning of the end” of their industry in the area.
But Bill Verhoven, secretary of the San Diego County Milk Producers Council, said Thursday that that remains to be seen.
“It all depends on how many more people are going to apply for permits in San Diego County, where they are going to apply for a dairy, and also how other regional boards view this--if they view this as a precedent,” he said.