EPA Unveils New Permit for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations to Protect Water Quality in Idaho

A new water discharge permit for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) will help protect Idaho’s rivers, lakes and streams from animal waste, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Boise, Idaho. The new EPA "General Permit” regulates discharges to surface waters from most Idaho CAFOs, including those on tribal lands. The permit covers a wide array of Idaho livestock operations, not only beef cattle and dairy cows, but also horses, sheep, pigs and poultry.

Many CAFO operations in Idaho are well managed to protect against harmful discharges of animal wastes.   Runoff from CAFOs can discharge manure, litter, and process waste water into streams, lakes or other surface waters causing not only serious environmental harm, but also exposing people to pathogens.

CAFO runoff or over-application of manure can harm water quality, damage habitat and cause fish kills by introducing excessive nutrients to rivers and streams. Groundwater can also be harmed, when pharmaceuticals and nutrients seep through the soil and contaminate aquifers that many Idahoans depend on for drinking water.

According to Mike Bussell, Director of EPA’s office of Water and Watersheds in Seattle, the Agency is reaching out to help CAFO owners or operators understand why they need to apply for the permit if they expect to discharge to a nearby stream, creek, lake or river.

“This permit will give producers the certainty they’ve been seeking,” said Mike Bussell, “Our message is clear: If you operate a CAFO and there’s runoff from pens, feed and manure storage areas, or areas where manure is spread, you need a permit.”

Operations covered by the new general permit include:

  • Any animal feeding operation that either meets the EPA definition of a CAFO, or  designated a CAFO by EPA; and
    any CAFO that discharges to surface water from where animals are confined or manure and wastewater is spread.
  • In addition to the standard permit application, CAFO owners and operators must submit a nutrient management plan for EPA’s initial review. The EPA reviews these documents and will make them available for public comment before granting permit coverage.
  • AFOs that have had permits in the past and wish to have continued coverage under the new permit, or CAFOs that discharge, will have 90 days after May 9, 2012 (effective date), to apply for their permit, submit their plan for review and obtain coverage under the new permit.

EPA will continue to work with the state of Idaho, tribal and local governments, environmental groups and other interested parties to get the new permit in place, offer compliance assistance to producers and safeguard Idaho’s water for the future.