An unlikely pairing, right? Not here in the Salish Sea area, where our days and days of winter rains wash everything into the bays–sewage overflow from malfunctioning septic systems, oil from the roadways, pet and wildlife waste–and manure from big dairy farms.
And in Whatcom County, north of Seattle, dairy farms are big business, so it accounts for a large amount of contaminated run-off. It starts small, though, with fecal coliform washing into the small streams and ditches around the farms, moving down into larger streams, then into the Nooksack River, and finally dumping into Portage Bay.
Presently, some 800 acres of shellfish beds are now closed during six months each year due to pollution. The Lummi Nation has traditionally harvested those beds for thousands of years, and through treaty rights with the United States, are entitled to continue harvesting them. Tricky to do when they’re contaminated.
After the tribe decided to sue the seven largest dairy farmers, the two sides started to meet and talk and try to avoid a lengthy, costly court battle for both of them. Last month they signed an agreement whereby the farmers will pay the tribe for the losses they are incurring, and make efforts to clean up their operations–buffering their streams and areas where manure run-off occurs, and installing above-ground steel containers for holding manure. It can more safely be spread on fields during the dry summer months. Expensive? Yes, but not as expensive as litigation.
But the agreement also forges a bond between the two sides so they can address other sources of contamination as well, and they hope to encourage the public to become more aware of ways they can help.
I liked the quote from one of those seven farmers (reported in the Bellingham Herald. “We and the Lummis probably have not understood each other for years. We did our thing out here and they did their thing over there….we have to understand each other and talk and learn about each other.”
Our Congress could learn a thing or two from these people–and perhaps we can, too.
Cow photo: photo credit: will_cyclist <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/88379351@N00/30538314015″>Moo</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>(license)</a>
photo: photo credit: Frankenstein <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/37996582271@N01/29509260353″>Lunch</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc Clam /2.0/”>(license)</a>