SNOHOMISH, Wash. – A dairy waste lagoon dike has failed, sending possibly millions of gallons of untreated manure into the Snohomish River and creating a big environmental and health hazard.
The lagoon, which holds up to 21 million gallons, is at the Bartelheimer Brothers dairy. The Washington state Dept. of Agriculture says the waste has filtered through the fields, reaching French Slough and the Snohomish River.
People are being urged to stay away from the Snohomish River. Cow manure is likely to contain E.coli bacteria, which can make people sick. The state says the Dept. of Health is closely monitoring the problem and that it appears there is no immediate threat to public drinking water systems. People with private wells may want to consult with the health department about potential risks.
The lagoon was built in 1997. The dike is 15 feet tall and the lagoon is 5 feet below ground level. The breach was more than 30 feet wide, causing all the manure above ground level to pour out.
The dairy, Bartelheimer Brothers, is cooperating in efforts to prevent further pollution. The farm has 750 dairy cows and grows 600 acres of corn and hay for cattle feed.
"We're doing everything we can to respond to this lagoon failure," said Jason Bartelheimer in a statement. "The farm has additional manure storage capacity, which we will rely on during this immediate response period."
The Dept. of Fish and Wildlife is determining what impact the manure is having on fish. Fishing is currently not open on the Snohomish River. A spokesman for the State Dept. of Ecology says preliminary tests of the river showed "dissolved oxygen" levels that are signs of problems for fish. Juvenile steelhead and chinook salmon populate the river. But so far, ecologists say there haven't been any reports of dead fish turning up in the Slough or Snohomish River.
E.coli symptoms iinclude, diarrhea, stomach cramps, vomiting and fever. Symptoms may not appear for several hours or several days. If you become sick with these symptoms, see a doctor.
Representatives of the Conservation Service and the state Ecology Department are trying to determine why the lagoon failed.