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EPA, Iowa DNR reach agreement on Clean Water Act changes

Posted Sept. 11, 2013

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources have agreed on changes to Iowa’s Clean Water Act (CWA) permit and compliance program for concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).

The agreement announced and effective today includes specific actions the DNR 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 the 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’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 the DNR 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 NPDES program requirements.

The DNR 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.
  • 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 NPDES CAFOs within five years following an agreed upon inspection procedure.
  • 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 non-compliance.
  • Change several provisions of Iowa’s CAFO rules so that Iowa state law is consistent with the federal CWA.
EPA considered public comments in its assessment of the DNR’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.

On July 12, 2012, EPA released a report outlining its initial findings, which identified issues in the DNR’s program that the state agency needed to correct. Among other findings, EPA found that that the DNR does not have an adequate program to assess whether unpermitted CAFOs need NPDES permits. The findings also noted that the DNR 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, the DNR 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 www.epa.gov/region7/water.

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