Plan would help improve Iowa’s monitoring of CAFOs

Jan 4, 2013
by DTN

Iowa’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have drafted a work plan agreement to improve the state’s regulation of concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, in response to a petition filed by environmental groups in 2007 that raised concerns about water pollution coming from livestock operations.

The draft agreement comes about one month after the state announced a new plan to voluntarily cut nutrient runoff coming from point and non-point sources. That plan has faced scrutiny from environmental groups and others who say voluntary conservation should be complemented by targeted regulations.

This past summer, EPA Region 7 released a scathing report that cited a number of shortfalls in the way Iowa regulates CAFOs.

The work agreement would require the state of Iowa to make some changes to regulations by 2014.

The Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (CCI), the Sierra Club and the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) filed a petition for the state to withdraw from the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System, or NPDES, program in September 2007. The groups want EPA to run the state’s program.

The petitioners said in a news release last week that the draft agreement “fails to guarantee that DNR will require all factory farm polluters to apply for Clean Water Act (CWA) permits” if the state fails to “fully fund the DNR’s factory farm permitting and enforcement programs during the upcoming 2013 session.”

“Mandatory inspections for all factory farms, new Clean Water Act rulemaking, and more funding for field staff will put most of the necessary pieces in place, but the draft agreement should go further to ensure that the DNR will actually issue tough permits to every polluter in the state,” Tarah Heinzen from EIP, Wally Taylor from Iowa Sierra Club, and David Goodner from Iowa CCI said in a joint statement.

The 2007 petition alleged that Iowa’s NPDES program did not meet CWA requirements. In its report, EPA said last summer that Iowa’s fine system did not serve as a deterrent to illegal releases into state waters.

Dal Grooms, director of communications at the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association, said his group is following the process closely but was unable to comment.

“We can’t comment on the agreement until it is signed, especially since this may not be the final draft,” he said.

Alter regulations

Under the agreement, Iowa would be expected to create regulations for NP- DES permitting on CAFOs that discharge.

The state would agree to modify its inspection and enforcement procedures to more consistently document conditions observed during CAFO inspections.

“As part of this effort, DNR should develop an inspection plan that at a minimum accomplishes the inspection goals established in EPA’s compliance monitoring strategy for all CAFO-related categories,” the agreement said. “Adequate resources will be necessary for implementation of the NPDES CAFO program.”

State and agriculture officials have pointed to a lack of adequate funding as a roadblock to implementing more widespread inspection of CAFOs and in establishing more conservation measures.

“A large number of the AFOs within the medium open lot and large confinement CAFO sectors have not been evaluated to establish their regulatory status,” the agreement said. “DNR should establish a plan to timely evaluate these operations.”

The agreement outlines a number of objectives in setting NPDES regulations for CAFOs that discharge.

By Feb. 1, 2013, DNR would need to begin gathering stakeholder input on proposed regulations to require CAFOs that discharge to “comply with NP- DES permitting requirements as provided in the federal CWA and federal NPDES regulations.” Proposed rules will be issued by June 1, 2013. DNR will complete rulemaking by Feb. 1, 2014, according to the agreement.

The state would be required to revise regulations that relate to setback and separation distances to bring them up to federal standards.

Iowa regulation would require that manure, litter and process wastewater not be applied closer than 100 feet to any down-gradient surface waters, open tile line intake structures, sinkholes, agricultural well heads, or other conduits to surface waters.

As an alternative, state law would allow CAFOs to substitute the 100-foot setback with a 35-foot-wide vegetated buffer “where applications of manure, litter, or process wastewater are prohibited,” according to the agreement.

CAFOs would be allowed to demonstrate that a setback or buffer is not necessary because implementation of alternative conservation practices or field-specific conditions will provide pollutant reductions equivalent or better than the reductions that would be achieved by a 100-foot setback.

The state would have until Dec. 31, 2018, to inspect and assess all large CAFOs and medium AFOs. By Feb. 1, 2013, DNR will be required to provide a complete listing of all known large CAFOs and medium AFOs in Iowa and a written plan to locate any unknown operations.

The state has estimated there to be about 8,000 operations that would need an NPDES evaluation, which would require the Iowa DNR to hire more fulltime staff. — Todd Neeley, DTN