WACO, Texas (AP)--Eight large dairies in central Texas have been accused of polluting the North Bosque River, causing taste and odor problems with the city of Waco's drinking water.
Attorneys hired by the city sued the dairies in a lawsuit filed in federal court April 29. The dairies are accused of failing to properly handle liquid and solid waste.
The lawsuit names Schouten Dairy, J&L Dairy, Cen-Tex Dairy, Dutch Cowboy Dairy, Excel Dairy, Triple Dutch Dairy, Hidden View Dairy and Aztex Dairy. All are in Erath County.
The dairies have permits for a total of 10,900 cows, and wastes from the facilities are polluting drinking water from Lake Waco, the lawsuit said. Seventy-five percent of the lake's water comes from the North Bosque.
John Cowan, general manager for the Texas Association of Dairymen, speaking on behalf of the dairies, said he had not seen the lawsuit but was disturbed by it.
"The Texas dairy industry and particularly the dairymen have been working very diligently to find an answer to the problems of Lake Waco," said Cowan, who is based in Grapevine, Texas. "I think lawsuits now will have a very drastic effect on the (dairy industry) relationship with Waco."
Roy Barrett, representing the city, said city officials decided to file the lawsuit after unsuccessful attempts to try to get the dairies to prevent pollution in the North Bosque.
"The city contends that it is clear both from scientific (data) and from common sense that large commercial dairy operations in the North Bosque watershed are contributing significantly to Lake Waco, and causing taste and odor problems in the water," Barrett said in a story in the May 1 Waco Tribune-Herald.
City officials said the pollutant is phosphorous, a food supplement fed to dairy cattle. The nutrient can cause an overabundance of algae, which contributes to taste and odor problems.
The pollutant gets into the waste stream and possibly enters the river during heavy rains through runoff or failed waste lagoons.
The lawsuit says the city has spent more than $3.5 million since 1995 to treat the water.
Barrett said warning letters were sent to the dairies in February telling them of the city's plans to sue if the dairies didn't change their practices.
The lawsuit didn't specify damages, but the warning letters said the city would seek civil penalties of not more than $27,500 a day per violation, if state and federal officials do not take actions against the farms.
Barrett said the city is suing only diaries with poor histories of complying with state and federal pollution guidelines.
Cowan said he hopes the situation can be resolved without litigation because lawsuits are a major economic problem for dairymen.