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 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 conducting a comprehensive survey of all large CAFOs and medium animal feeding operations that currently don't have CWA wastewater discharge permits and identifying those that discharge to a water of the U.S. but 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 those with 300-999 are defined as medium.
In addition, IDNR 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 National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permitted CAFOs must be inspected within five years following an agreed-upon inspection procedure. IDNR must complete 20% of the total inspections each year.
The work plan agreement also requires IDNR to submit a status report in 90 days, 210 days and annually thereafter.
IDNR will file annual reports on its work plan progress, and EPA will continue to assess whether the state is moving towards compliance with CWA. The status reports will be published on IDNR's website.
The agency must 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 that violators do not gain competitive advantage from non-compliance.
The work plan also requires several changes to Iowa's CAFO rules so that Iowa state law is consistent with the federal CWA.
"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."
EPA said public comments, including feedback from the agricultural community, were taken into consideration in the drafting of the final agreement.
IDNR director Chuck Gipp added that the agency, when gathering suggestions for this work plan, visited with many Iowa residents affected by the NPDES program, including farmers, landowners, municipalities, EPA and other stakeholders, to discuss how to work together to achieve a shared goal.
"This work plan agreement clarifies program implementation and 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," Gipp said.
"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, IDNR deputy director.
Gipp said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy's visit to Iowa during the state fair helped the process of completing a final work plan.
"I think Administrator McCarthy's message of cooperation rather than confrontation was well received here in Iowa," Gipp said.
Environmental groups noted in a statement that Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and industry groups were pushing for what the groups saw as a weaker agreement that would have guaranteed on-site inspections for only about 500 of the very largest farms — those with more than 2,000 beef cattle or 5,000 hogs — but the final agreement requires inspections of at least 3,200 facilities since the petitioners and 17 other organizations demanded on-site inspections for all medium-sized farms and large CAFOs.
Representatives of the community/environmental coalition whose petition drove the process for the agreement hailed the deal as a significant step towards clean water but cautioned that they will measure success as the work plan goes into force.
Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement member Larry Ginter, a family farmer from Rhodes, Iowa, said the "fight is far from over."
He added that his group will be "rigorously monitoring" the implementation of the agreement and will continue to press its demands through rule-making as well as during the 2014 legislative session.