The drive from Anthony, NM to Santa Fe is about four and a half hours. Imagine driving there and back just so you could talk to the people who will decide what happens in your backyard. That’s what Maria Elena Bejarano and Betty Gonzalez did just to be a part of the public process and to have their voice heard. They wanted to tell those people what it’s like to live near a mega-dairy with hundreds of cows just across the road.
They were the only community members available to go to the public hearing back in the Spring, but the dairies, “they’re well represented at these meetings,” says Betty. Other community members, Maria Elena explains, “are concerned, but they feel they can’t do anything. That’s one of the basic things that I hear from them: ‘What can we do? They got more than what we can fight them with.’”
“Most meetings take place in Albuquerque or Santa Fe,” says Betty, “and we are at the southern end of the state. Trying to get people to go up there…it’s hard. We don’t have the resources. When we go, we make the trip all in one day. We take our own car, we pay for our own gas, you know? But we feel that it’s…”
“…important enough,” says Maria Elena.
Other community members, Maria Elena explains, “are concerned, but they feel they can’t do anything. That’s one of the basic things that I hear from them: ‘What can we do? They got more than what we can fight them with.’”
These women, both proud grandmothers, have been living in this community for over thirty years each. They moved here to Anthony to be close to their families, to raise their children in a rural environment and have them close to their generational roots. Their neighborhood wasn’t always such a hard place to live. “When I moved here in 1978, I didn’t even know there was a dairy,” says Maria Elena. “It didn’t smell. Then they started increasing the number of cows and that’s what caused it to get bad.”
“I will be here,” pointing to her kitchen sink, “peeling chiles, washing dishes, all that good stuff and there it is,” the overwhelming stench of manure. Maria Elena goes on to explain how the flies got so bad last year. “One time my cousin came over and out of three doors she didn’t know where to come in. It was just packed with flies. They were on everything.”
“That’s the thing,” adds Betty. “We can’t enjoy anything outside.”
The Del Oro Dairy is about 600 feet from Maria Elena’s home and stretches about a half mile long. It is one of several mega-dairies in the area and is one of the smaller operations. A short drive down Interstate 10 past Las Cruces shows why the area is called “Dairy Row”.
Law Center Attorney Jon Block represents Rio Valle Concerned Citizens in its efforts to get existing groundwater contamination along Dairy Row cleaned up. Rio Valle Concerned Citizens is also working with the Law Center and other communities around New Mexico that are impacted by dairies to protect the existing “Dairy Rule,” which was adopted in 2010. The Dairy Industry has tried to overturn it since 2011 and has now petitioned the Water Quality Control Commission to gut it.
“We want to know that our well water is going to be protected,” says Betty. “Everything depends on water, so we’ve GOT to do something.”
“We’re trying,” says Maria Elena.
When thinking back on the time spent living with swarms of flies and the smell, Maria Elena reflects…