EPA, Iowa DNR reach landmark CAFO agreement

Published on: Sep 12, 2013

The Environmental Protection Agency 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 (CAFOs).

The agreement includes specific actions IDNR intends to take to remedy the program and a timeline for implementation of those actions to ensure clean, healthy water. The work plan process was initiated by the EPA in response to a 2007 de-delegation petition filed by Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, the Environmental Integrity Project, and the Iowa Sierra Club. 

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 water 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.

In addition it will 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, EPA said.

IDNR will also 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.

All permitted NPDES CAFOs must be inspected within five years following an agreed upon inspection procedure. DNR must complete 20% of the total inspections each year. The work plan agreement also requires DNR to submit a status report in 90 days, 210 days, and annually thereafter. DNR will file annual reports on its work plan progress, and EPA will continue to assess whether the state is moving towards compliance with the Clean Water Act. The status reports will be published on DNR’s website.

The agency must also issue timely wastewater discharge permits to all CAFOs determined to discharge to local waterways. It must take timely and appropriate enforcement actions when needed, including assessing penalties that ensure violators do not gain competitive advantage from non-compliance.

The work plan also requires several changes Iowa’s CAFO rules so that Iowa state law is consistent with the federal CWA.

EPA said public comments, including feedback from the agricultural community, were taken into consideration in the drafting of the final agreement.

Iowa DNR director Chuck Gipp said the work plan "is a reflection of Iowans working together on a commonsense solution that will encourage best practices and promote open communication between affected Iowans and the DNR."    

“This plan rejects a one-size-fits-all approach for every farm in Iowa. Instead, the state chose a partnership approach that enables agricultural producers to leverage best practices proactively,” said Bruce Trautman, Deputy Director of the DNR.

Representatives of the community-environmental coalition whose petition drove the process for the agreement hailed the agreement as a significant step towards clean water, but cautioned that they will measure success as the work plan goes into force.