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Washington Department of Ecology Issues ‎Updated Water Quality Permit for Large-Scale CAFOs

January 20, 2017


On January 18, 2017, the Washington Department of Ecology‎ (Ecology) issued an updated Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) water quality permit, effective March 3, 2017, imposing new operational requirements intended to prevent manure runoff and seepage into groundwater. The permit was developed with input from the agriculture and environmental communities.

Ecology adopted a two-permit approach. Facilities with surface water discharges must be covered by a combined state/federal permit. Facilities with groundwater discharges must obtain coverage with either a state-only or a combined state/federal permit. Facilities that have both types of discharges will need the combined permit.

The permits conditionally authorize the discharge of pollutants to both surface and groundwaters from the production area and land application fields that result from operating a CAFO with 200 or more mature dairy cows, 750 or more large swine, or 3,000 or more sheep and lambs. The permit also applies to large operations of turkeys, hens, or others deemed by Ecology to be a CAFO.

Small operations, such as dairies with fewer than 200 cows, are not subject to the permit requirements unless they have been designated by Ecology to be a significant contributor of pollutants to surface or groundwater.

The permit imposes new requirements for how and when facilities can spread manure onto crops and soils to prevent manure runoff and seepage into groundwater. Compliance must be measured through soil testing. The operator must stop or limit manure spreading, or monitor groundwater, if soil tests show nitrate levels higher than 30 ppm.

Existing manure lagoons must be assessed under the criteria established by Washington NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service) Engineering Technical Note 23 (NRCS Assessment Procedure for Existing Waste Storage Ponds) and assigned a risk category. If a lagoon does not satisfy the criteria for Risk Category 1, the operator will have 6 months to develop a plan to address the deficiencies noted by the assessment, and 18 months to begin implementing the plan. Based on review of the plan, Ecology may take actions to order the operator to immediately address lagoon deficiencies to address threats to public health or the environment.

Ecology declined to require dairies to line manure lagoons with synthetic material and drill wells to monitor pollution in groundwater, which had been advocated by environmental groups.

More information about the updated permit can be found at Ecology’s website, or by calling Connie Sue Martin of Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt at 206.407.1556.


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