New Mexico Dairy Farmers Aim To Protect Groundwater

By Mónica Ortiz Uribe
March 26, 2015

Dairy farms in southern New Mexico have submitted a plan to the state that will help prevent groundwater contamination beneath their properties. 

Shallow groundwater surrounding 11 neighboring dairy farms in southern New Mexico is contaminated with high levels of nitrates, chloride and salts. One source of that contamination comes from cow manure washing off the farms on rainy days. Dairymen like Ed De Ruyter, who runs a 2,000 cow farm just south of Las Cruces, are supposed to catch that wastewater in onsite lagoons. 

Mónica Ortiz Uribe
Ed De Ruyter runs a 2,000 cow dairy farm in southern New Mexico. He lines his onsite waste water pits with plastic to help prevent ground water contamination.

"When we started here 40 years ago, we started with manure-lined lagoons and that was approved practice at the time," De Ruyter said. 

At a public hearing this week, all 11 dairies agreed to line their lagoons with heavy plastic to prevent seepage. They'll also pay for routine groundwater monitoring and analysis.  

Bart Faris with the New Mexico Environment Department said the contaminated water that's already underground is at least 100 feet above the area's drinking water source. 

Mónica Ortiz Uribe
A tractor piles up cow manure on a dairy in southern New Mexico. The manure is trucked out to be used as fertilizer on area farms.

"As far as direct impacts, nobody is drinking this water, nobody is bathing in this water but by state rules this has to be remediated," Faris said. 

The state's remediation plan is to let the water dilute itself naturally, which could take up to 20 years. Nitrate contaminated water can cause a deadly blood disorder in infants. Other potential sources of contamination include inorganic fertilizer used by crop farmers and residential septic tanks.