Industry representatives, environmentalists and state officials have reached a compromise over how to protect groundwater from potential contamination from dairy operations.
Settlement talks began several days before state regulators were scheduled to open a public hearing to consider changes to New Mexico's dairy regulations. The agreement was presented during the hearing Monday in Roswell.
New Mexico Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn, who chairs the state Water Quality Control Commission, said the panel plans to vote on the settlement during its meeting in May.
The Roswell Daily Record reports (http://bit.ly/1BSxdNb) that the proposed regulations would lessen the number of required monitoring wells and give dairy farmers more flexibility on how to contain wastewater.
Environmental groups say the proposal also calls for dairies to still be responsible for cleaning up pollution they cause.
New Mexico has dozens of dairies and ranks among the top milk and cheese producers.
Representatives from the Environment Department and the state attorney general's office have signed off on the proposed agreement, potentially bringing to an end several years of litigation over the regulations.
Trais Kliphuis, director of the Environment Department's Water Protection Division, said the location of monitoring wells is among the big changes.
"The rule as it is today still requires that every single potential source have a monitoring well. It's very specifically located and it didn't allow for the department to make a site-specific evaluation and determine where the best the place to put a monitoring well is," she said.
Current regulations have led to dairies asking the water commission for variances, creating a backlog, officials said.
The proposed stipulation also allows dairy farmers to use either a single plastic liner or a two-foot-thick clay liner to contain wastewater from areas where cows are milked. Current regulations require a single plastic liner.