In an ongoing battle, fueled by activist groups, EPA 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).  

EPA, Iowa DNR reach CAFO agreementThe issue stems from a 2007 petition filed by several activist groups for EPA to withdraw Iowa’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program authorization from IDNR. The groups that filed the petition include 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.

At the national level, two of those same groups, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and the Environmental Integrity Project, along with other environmental and animal-rights groups, recently filed a suit against EPA over the agency’s withdrawal of a proposed new rule governing reporting requirements for CAFOs.

EPA investigated the Iowa issue and on July 12, 2012, released a report outlining its initial findings, which identified several issues in IDNR’s program that the state agency would need to correct. This week the agency finalized its agreements with IDNR, requiring significant changes but falling short of withdrawing the state’s NPDES authorization.

According to the EPA’s Region 7 office in The IDNR has committed to:

  • Change several provisions of Iowa’s CAFO rules so that Iowa state law is consistent with the federal CWA.
  • 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.

A copy of the final work plan agreement can be found on the EPA Region 7 website.