Dairy expansions in the southern San Joaquin Valley have slowed after Attorney General Bill Lockyer submitted legal challenges and an environmental group filed lawsuits. Lockyer and environmentalists have forced local planning departments to examine their practices in approving dairies, and to begin preparing environmental impact reports. "The issue seems to be focussing on cumulative impact," said Leonard Garoupa, Madera County's planning director. Prior to Lockyer's involvement and lawsuits filed by the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment, counties throughout the region approved giant dairies with mitigated negative declarations, instead of mandating EIRs. But now several dairy developers have begun EIRs, and some counties are pursuing program EIRs related to dairy expansion. A program EIR could focus on the cumulative impacts of dairy growth and suggest broad policy alternatives, and it could reduce the need for extensive environmental review of each new dairy. The reason for all the concern: cow manure from dairies is a major polluter of water supplies. The studies now underway are expected to consider how additional dairies will affect native grasslands and wetlands, and the impacts of cow manure on water quality. The dairy issue appears ready-made for the newly elected Lockyer, whose environmentalist supporters had encouraged him to allow his office to comment on the adequacy of local CEQA reviews. His predecessor, Dan Lungren, stopped this practice. (See CP&DR, March 1999.) In April and May, the AG's office filed two petitions for writs of mandate in Tulare County, asking that special use permits be revoked and that there be full compliance with CEQA. No court action has been taken yet on the petitions, but the filing sent a strong signal that Lockyer intends to play a bigger role in land use and environmental issues than Lungren. "We've asked that CEQA be followed," said Lockyer spokeswoman Sandra Michioku. "The review of environmental impacts should be looked at." The San Joaquin Valley is home to many of the state's dairies, many of which are factory farms containing thousands of cows. Dairies have moved to the Valley because of urbanization in San Bernardino County's Chino Basin, a dairy producing area for decades. Despite environmentalists' concerns regarding habitat for endangered species and traffic congestion, the City of Ontario is moving ahead with plans to annex 13 square miles of what has been farmland. Early development plans call for 31,000 houses and apartments on the land proposed for annexation. "The dairy farmers are getting pushed out of the Chino basin both by rising land prices and also by increased environmental scrutiny," said attorney Luke Cole of the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment. "They're coming over to the wild, wild west, which is Kern County, Kings County, Tulare County, and they're really taking advantage of lax environmental enforcement and planning departments that don't really have the capacity to oversee major dairies." Cole's organization sued Kings County in April over four of the five dairies it had approved for the J.G. Boswell Co., an international agricultural company based in Pasadena. Boswell officials then asked the county to rescind its approval of conditional use permits and said it would do an EIR instead. Boswell planned to build dairies for 55,000 cows on 7,000 acres in Kings County, according to the Fresno Bee. The reason for the change, Boswell's general counsel Edward Giermann said in a letter to the county, was "because of the California Attorney General's recent expressions regarding the need for Environmental Impact Reports in Tulare County. We think it is entirely possible such expressions could affect Kings County dairy activities too." In Kern County, a similar lawsuit was settled when Borba Dairies agreed to prepare an EIR, according to Planning Director Ted James. Ironically, the two proposed dairies in Kern County are for an area that had previously been designated for urban use. In Madera County, the situation caused that county's planning commission to delay a dairy approval recently, Garoupa said. In Tulare County, the attorney general's actions threaten plans for the Costa and Airosa dairies. Each dairy would be located on more than 500 acres, with most of the land used to spread cow waste. The Costa facility, for example, would use 577 acres, but only 164 acres would be for the dairy. Tulare County is the leading dairy county in the nation, with nearly 300 dairies in operation. There are 20 applications for new and expanded dairies pending, according to George Finney, assistant director of the county's resource management agency. Finney said a program EIR for dairies should be completed by the fall, which ought to help the county process applications faster. Most of the applications for dairies, he said, are in the remote parts of the county where there are few residences, a low water table and farmland is considered marginal. "There's nothing to harm by putting it there," he said. At the state level, the dairy industry is hoping that a proposed $1.8 billion state water bond will include money to help Central Valley counties grapple with the clean water issues raised by dairies' growth. The industry is asking for $20 million to help counties cover the costs of preparing program EIRs, and for help setting up a revolving fund for dairy and other animal farmers to improve pollution control activities on their properties, according to Gary Conover, a lobbyist for the Western Dairymen's Association. Money from the revolving fund would pay for such things as tailwater recycling systems, larger holding lagoons and better manure control systems. An earlier water bond failed to make it onto the November 1998 ballot. At that time, dairy groups were only asking for $10 million. But in light of the increased pressure placed on them to get their manure together — including recent inspections of farms by the federal EPA — that money request has doubled. As of mid-June, none of the money had been included in the water bond measure. Dairy operators "are beginning to have difficulty with banks funding new or expansion dairies ... due to the heightened environmental publicity," Conover said in a recent memo. Contacts: Gary Conover, lobbyist, Western Dairymen's Association, (916) 447-0700. Leonard Garoupa, planning director, Madera County, (559) 675-7821. George Finney, assistant director for long range planning, Tulare County Resource Management Agency, (559)733-6291. Ted James, planning director, Kern County, (805) 862-8616. Luke Cole, lawyer, Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment, (415) 495-8990. Bill Zumwalt, planning director, Kings County, (559) 582-3211.