New technology has potential to benefit environment and bolster state dairies

Dairy farmers in Washington are besieged. I’m frequently impressed by their stewardship and their adaptability, but they face a well-funded opposition for whom their efforts are never enough.

For instance, the state Department of Ecology passed expensive new regulations, forcing family farmers to fight for reasonable changes (and those were blasted by opponents). Outside groups file lawsuits at the drop of a hat. The Obama-controlled EPA funded grants that went for billboards and other advertising that accused farmers of being polluters.

Some opponents on the extreme end target dairies through environmental rules, but in reality, their objections are not over specific issues. They’re simple against the whole notion of dairies and other commercial animal operations.

Despite the efforts of some, dairy farms aren’t going away. For one thing, milk products remain in high demand with consumers. Washington’s dairies are an important part of our robust ag sector and contribute to the state’s growing food exports.

Taking away a cudgel
Thankfully, new technology is providing a shot of optimism for those interested in protecting and supporting Washington dairies. Water purification systems under development by Skagit County’s Janicki Bioenergy are attracting attention from political leaders and dairy farmers alike.

The company gained worldwide attention for its water purification efforts with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Bill Gates trusted the technology enough to drink a glass of pure water that had been extracted from sewer sludge just minutes before.

That demonstration has garnered millions of views on YouTube. Talk about an attention-getter.

The same technology that impressed Gates could be adapted to handle cow manure. The end result would be safe, purified water and separated solids that could be used as dry fertilizer, with “runoff from dairies a problem of the past,” the Capital Press reported.

Peter Janicki estimates that building a demonstration project that could handle a 1,000 cow dairy would cost $2 million. Costs would drop as more dairies adapt the technology.

Legislators in Olympia are intrigued by the possibilities. The state constitution’s prohibition on the gifting of public funds may preclude direct state involvement, but federal research funding is a possibility.

Janicki’s water purification system has the potential to take away one of the favorite cudgels used by dairy industry opponents. For those who value our family farmers, that’s an encouraging possibility. So is the thought of farms around the country buying purification systems built by skilled hands in Skagit County.
-Rob McKenna

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Rob McKenna
Rob served two terms as Washington’s Attorney General, from 2005 to 2013. He successfully argued three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and negotiated three of the largest consumer financial protection settlements in national history, all involving mortgage lending and servicing. He is a recognized leader in the development of consumer protections on the internet, in data protection and privacy regulation.