Agreement reached on Iowa's CAFO permit and compliance program

Sep 13, 2013

EPA has reached an agreement with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) to make changes to Iowa’s Clean Water Act (CWA) permit and compliance program for concentrated animal feeding operations (CA- FOs). The agreement includes specific actions ID- NR intends to take to remedy the program and a timeline for implementation of those actions to ensure clean, healthy water.

“Working with states to safeguard Midwestern waters is among EPA’s highest priorities,” said Karl Brooks, EPA regional administrator. “This agreement, developed after extensive public and industry input, commits IDNR to making needed and achievable improvements to the system that keeps CAFOs compliant with the CWA. Iowans who operate a world-class livestock sector will continue to thrive in a first-rate permitting and inspection program.”

Dal Grooms, Director of Communication’s with the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association (ICA) shared that the association appreciated the opportunity to be at the table to work with regulators to make sure that their approach would include some common sense and consistency, while improving the state’s water quality.

Over the course of nearly nine months, the task force of cattle producers and engineers ICA was able to bring to the table provided insight which will allow the inclusion of desktop models rather than ‘boots on the ground’ inspection for most medium-sized cattle operations. This will improve efficiency for both IDNR and the state’s cattle producers.

ICA producers have a long legacy of finding proactive, common-sense solutions that first protect water quality and the environment, while ensuring the use of management practices that allow for the productivity of future generations. In fact, over the last several years, ICA has partnered with IDNR and Iowa State University Extension to develop the Iowa Small Feedlot Plan, a series of resources designed to help producers better understand regulatory laws and rules and match them to the cattleman’s dedication to be a successful land and environmental steward.

While ICA worked diligently with producers and other players in this process, EPA considered public comments in its assessment of IDNR’s proposed actions to ensure clean water across the state. Public comments, including feedback from the agricultural community, were taken into consideration in the drafting of the final agreement.

EPA’s investigation of Iowa’s permit and compliance program for CAFOs was carried out in response to a petition for withdrawal of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program authorization from IDNR that was filed in 2007 by the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, Sierra Club and the Environmental Integrity Project. Federal regulations allow interested parties to file these petitions when they are concerned that a state is not meeting the minimum NP- DES program requirements.

IDNR has committed to:

• Conduct a comprehensive survey of all large CAFOs and medium animal feeding operations that currently don’t have CWA wastewater discharge permits and identify those that discharge to a waterway of the U.S. and have failed to comply with the permit application or other Iowa requirements. Size thresholds for each species define large and medium operations. For example, operations with more than 1,000 head of cattle are defined as large and 300 to 999 are defined as medium.

• Review all relevant available information to evaluate site-specific factors that may signal the likelihood of a wastewater discharge to local waterways. This desktop assessment will document baseline conditions at a facility and determine whether an on-site inspection will be conducted.

• Conduct on-site inspections following agreed upon inspection procedures for all large CAFOs. For medium operations, on-site inspections will be conducted when certain site specific circumstances exist or the desktop assessment determines that an on-site inspection is needed.

• Inspect all permitted NP- DES CAFOs within five years following an agreed upon inspection procedure.

• Issue timely wastewater discharge permits to all CA- FOs determined to discharge to local waterways.

• Take timely and appropriate enforcement actions when needed, including assessing penalties that ensure violators do not gain competitive advantage from non-compliance.

• Change several provisions of Iowa’s CAFO rules so that Iowa state law is consistent with the federal CWA.

On July 12, 2012, EPA released a report outlining its initial findings, which identified issues in IDNR’s program that the state agency will need to correct. Among other findings, EPA found that IDNR does not have an adequate program to assess whether unpermitted CAFOs need NP- DES permits. The findings also noted that IDNR must clarify its authority to issue NPDES permits to confinement (roofed) CAFOs that discharge. EPA also found that in a number of cases involving CWA violations, IDNR failed to take timely and adequate enforcement actions, and assess adequate penalties.

The CWA requires EPA and authorized states to assess whether CAFOs discharge and need an NPDES permit. Any discharge of pollutants into a river or stream is a violation of the CWA unless the discharge is authorized by an NPDES permit. The CWA requires CAFOs that discharge to obtain an NPDES permit from EPA or authorized states.

A copy of the final work plan agreement can be found at gion7/water. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor