Dairy company owner sentenced following water pollution incident

May 5, 2015

William Franklin Johnston, the owner of one of North Carolina's largest dairy farms, was recently sentenced to four years probation for his role in polluting North Carolina's French Broad River, announced the EPA.

Johnston owns Tap Root Dairy Farm, which maintains several hundred cows and hundreds of acres of crop fields. Annually, during the course of regular operations, the farm disposes of millions of pounds of solid and liquid animal waste. According to the Clean Water Act, such waste is considered a pollutant and therefore its disposal is highly regulated. 

In 2009 Johnston allegedly let his certification, as Operator in Charge (OIC) of his farm's animal waste management system, expire. He was warned repeatedly by government agencies to designate a valid OIC to oversee waste management, but failed to do so.

At the end of 2012, over a period of 93 days, Johnston and other Tap Root Dairy Farm employees disregarded their responsibility to check and maintain levels of cow waste in their on-site waste lagoon. Due to this lapse in oversight 11,000 gallons of cow feces and other waste spilled over and discharged into the French Broad River. The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources tested the river's water and discovered that the levels of fecal coliform bacteria (such as E. coli) were 99,000 parts per million. Anything above 800 parts per million is considered contamination.

For his part, Johnston will spend six months of his four years of probation in home detention. He will also pay a personal fine of $15,000, while Tap Root Dairy Farms will pay $80,000, alongside its own four year probation, during which it will follow a comprehensive environmental compliance plans. Environmental consultants can help farms and other businesses develop such plans.