YAKIMA -- The number of Yakima Valley dairies participating in a voluntary program to reduce air pollution has grown to 17, representing more than half of the cows in the county.
County air-quality regulators recently said, in formalizing another year of the voluntary approach, that they want to see more of the remaining 50 dairies join.
Director Dick Camp of Yakima, a county-appointed member of the agency board, asked staff about finding ways to increase pressure on operators to participate.
"If we don't get high enough participation voluntarily, we will have to rethink this from the beginning," Camp told agency Executive Director Gary Pruitt.
Pruitt indicated reasonable participation would be about 85 percent of the cows in the county.
According to the state Department of Agriculture, there are about 127,000 cows on dairies in the county.
"We are at 60 percent of the problem," Pruitt said. "We are trying to get a handle on 85 percent or better of the problem. I believe we will see more participation."
Industry representative Steve George of Moxee, while not offering a figure, said he is confident more participation is likely.
The agency launched a 10-month pilot project in early 2011 to test methods to reduce dust, odors, ammonia, methane and other compounds in response to public complaints.
Pruitt's proposal to transform the voluntary approach to a mandatory one by October was met with resistance from board members.
They want to give the current effort more time to work without required registration and the payment of fees.
County Commissioner Kevin Bouchey, also a board member, echoed those sentiments at meeting last week.
"I still believe we are moving forward in a positive fashion," he said.
Dairy critics have challenged the program as lacking enforcement and measurable results. Those criticisms continued last Thursday, and expanded to include concerns about polluted water, where the agency lacks jurisdiction.
Camp said the air agency should work with other regulatory agencies for a coordinated approach to dairy issues.
"I get tired of hearing it is someone else's problem," he said.