Agreement signed on Iowa CAFOs
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September 25, 2013
Agreement signed on Iowa CAFOs

About 3,200 Iowa livestock facilities will be subject to a more rigorous regulatory program under an agreement reached by the EPA and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR).  The agreement was spurred by environmental groups that petitioned the EPA in 2007 to withdraw Iowa’s authority to run the Clean Water Act’s permitting program for concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) because of the alleged failure of the state to enforce the federal CAFO requirements. 

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The agreement included the participation of EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, and may influence actions in other states where there are controversies over implementation of the national CAFO requirements.

EPA report

The EPA responded to the petition by inspecting Iowa’s CAFO permit and compliance program.  Among findings included in a 2012 report, the EPA said the IDNR did not have an adequate program to assess whether unpermitted CAFOs need National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits.  The report did indicate that the IDNR had resolved 26 of the 31 alleged deficiencies included in the 2007 petition. 

While accepting the need for increased regulation, the IDNR insists that state CAFOs will not be forced into one-size-fits-all compliance and will otherwise benefit from the partnership approach.

Survey and inspections

Under the agreement, the IDNR will: 

  • Conduct a comprehensive survey of all large CAFOs and medium animal feeding operations that currently do not have NPDES permits and identify those that discharge to a water of the United States and have failed to comply with the requirement to apply for a permit 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-on 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 NPDES CAFOs within 5 years following an agreed-on inspection procedure at a rate of 20 percent of total inspections per year.
  • Issue timely wastewater discharge permits to all CAFOs 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 noncompliance.
  • Strengthen manure setback requirements within 1 year by establishing new separation distances that meet federal law.

Inspectors added

The inspection effort will be aided by the addition of seven inspectors, the result of a $700,000 appropriation signed into law by Iowa Governor Terry Branstad early this summer.  The environmental group petition will remain in force during the 5-year term of the agreement. 

According to IDNR Director Bruce Trautman, finalization of the agreement was aided by a visit by Administrator McCarthy to the Iowa State Fair in mid-August.

“We will rigorously monitor the implementation of this agreement and continue to press our demands through rulemaking as well as during the 2014 legislative session,” said Larry Ginter, a farmer and member of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, one of the groups that submitted the petition.

The agreement

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