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DEQ grants fund 13 water quality projects on big dairies

A dairy farm in Ada County plans on updating its manure separating system.
Idaho DEQ
A dairy farm in Ada County plans on updating its manure separating system.

Idaho dairy farms were awarded $5 million from a state fund to help improve water quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The money in the CAFO Improvement Fund, set up by the legislature last year, will go toward 13 projects on 12 dairies. CAFOs, or concentrated animal feeding operations, are big livestock or poultry farms.

Their manure, often held in large pits called lagoons, emits gasses like methane, as well as odor.

While manure can be used as fertilizer, putting it on fields can lead to polluting aquifers or rivers when too many of its nutrients like phosphorous and nitrogen make it to the water.

However, CAFOs are not eligible for one of the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality’s main water quality improvement grants, so agriculture industry groups lobbied the legislature for a separate program.

On Monday, Idaho Dairymen’s Association CEO Rick Naerebout told lawmakers how the awarded projects will deal with the waste’s environmental impact.

“Anything from additional containment, so more lagoon storage, or piping those lagoons to different pivots to be able to spread nutrients further away from the facility, all the way up to some of the most advanced manure technologies we have at our disposal with reverse osmosis being proposed on at least two projects," he said.

Naerebout said some of these technologies are “cutting edge” and aren’t yet in use on any Idaho farms.

A central goal of most of the projects funded is to better separate the solid and liquid parts of cow manure. Drying the solid components on their own makes it easier to spread out over more acres as fertilizer and to transport it to fields farther away. This helps ensure certain plots aren’t being overloaded with phosphorus, in turn improving water quality.

One farm, Desert Ridge Dairy in Boise, is implementing a wastewater filtration system powered by earthworms, according to project applications shared by DEQ, which is administering the grant program. The water the worms filter by eating the contaminants can then be used for irrigating crops.

Other projects chosen expand manure lagoon capacity so waste ponds don’t overflow in years with a lot of precipitation, which can lead to surface water contamination.

Naerebout said farms are multiplying the state’s $5 million investment, as the projects they’ll construct cost more than four times that amount. He said more than 35 farms applied for the funding, showing a lot of interest in the program’s first year. Going forward, they would like to receive more applications from beef operations.

Gov. Brad Little’s budget this year includes another round of funding for this grant, pending approval from the legislature.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

Copyright 2023 Boise State Public Radio

As the south-central Idaho reporter, I cover the Magic and Wood River valleys. I also enjoy writing about issues related to health and the environment.

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