The lawsuit against the Florida Department of Environmental Protection can now move forward as a circuit judge last week refused a motion to dismiss it.

Last year, several environmental groups joined together to file suit against DEP for allegedly allowing dairy farms to pollute waterways with dairy waste.

Several dairy farms in the central and northern portions of the state are listed in the lawsuit as examples of polluters that the DEP has not cracked down on. The plaintiffs want DEP to be forced to require all farms to obtain discharge permits. Obtaining a discharge permit means producers would have to implement certain pollution-control measures and the affected waterways would be monitored for contamination.

Linda Young, of the Clean Water Network in Tallahassee, told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel that “what we're trying to do is compel DEP to require permits for these large, factory-type dairies, where thousands of cows are herded into barns.”

Dairies produce a lot of manure and other things that the environmental groups contend ends up in groundwater and in surface water. State law requires discharge permits and pollution-control measures be taken by livestock operations. According to the environmental groups, DEP has ignored this requirement for years and the result is loss of water quality.

Other groups joining the Clean Water Network in the lawsuit include: Save Our Suwannee, Manasota-88 and the Conservation Alliance of St. Lucie County.

Lucia Ross, spokeswoman for DEP, said the department has been trying to reduce pollution from dairy farms for years. In fact, most dairies have permits and take steps to reduce pollution runoff from the farm. And for those who do not currently have permits, the department is working with them to reduce discharges so they can obtain permits.

In the past, environmental agencies have focused more on factories and other industrial-type point sources of pollution. With most point sources of pollution corrected, now, authorities had turned toward non-point pollution and farms are receiving more attention.

South Florida Sun-Sentinel