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DENR Posts Draft CAFO Pollution Permit; Rules Getting Tighter?

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources may have excluded the grassroots from the process of drafting a new General Water Pollution Control Permit for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, but DENR has now published that draft for our review in anticipation of their Thursday meeting on the subject.

Since I’m sure we all want to read about manure handling all day, here are the two permits:

  1. Current permit (38 pages)
  2. Proposed draft permit (43 pages)

So far, I notice two proposed changes that appear to lean toward greater environmental protection. The draft permit removes language about “chronic or catastrophic events.” The existing permit reads, “The only time this permit allows a discharge from an open lot is if a chronic or catastrophic event causes an overflow from the manure containment structure.” That sentence does not appear in the proposed revision. Maybe an exception is worked into other language, but it appears that the new permit would require CAFO operators to build their manure storage systems to withstand the worst that Mother Nature (or ISIS bombers?) can dish out.

The proposed draft does extend the time limit for temporary manure stockpiles from 90 to 120 days. It adds compacted soil berms as an allowable alternative to covering such stockpiles. However, that provision also adds requirements for siting such stockpiles: under the draft, such stockpiles would have to be outside the 100-year flood plain, outside setback areas, and on nutrient management plan field not over a shallow aquifer.” And where the current draft simply says producers “should consider moving temporary stockpiles,” the proposed draft says “The same stockpiling site cannot be used from year to year.”

There’s much more to read in the draft—readers, I welcome your review. Are these two changes exceptions to the rules Big Ag has helped DENR draft? Or is DENR really tightening the rules CAFOs must follow to keep their poop in a group?


  1. Kathy Tyler 2015-09-14 13:39

    I just finished reading the two documents…thanks for the impetus to get my assignment done! To me, it’s much more thorough than the old permit. I like that the application requires names of all parties involved in the CAFO.
    In addition to manure spills from the pits, people need to be aware of the problems associated with the distribution of the manure–billions of gallons every year on fields.
    There are too many ‘shoulds’ dealing with manure application and not enough ‘shalls.’ Tiled ground has its own issues with manure application. Research shows the criteria necessary for proper application of manure on tiled ground. If it’s a dry fall and liquid manure is applied to tiled ground, it will go directly into the tiles, and into the waterways. Again, ‘shall’ instead of ‘should.’
    Many think that test wells should be mandatory. The pits will leak; they are not perfect.
    Air quality is mentioned, but not odor.
    There is no discussion of enforcement of the permit, the complaint procedure, or consequences.
    Anxious to see how Thursday’s meetings turn out.

  2. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-09-14 14:38

    Thanks for looking through them, Kathy! I’m still working through the section-by-section comparison. Your impression, though, is that this draft represents an improvement?

  3. leslie 2015-09-14 15:08

    the denr regulators are Pirner, and AG Geid, same as the heap leach days? similar technology or concepts?

  4. Roger Elgersma 2015-09-14 15:16

    When I was a farmer and went to livestock meetings at SDSU, the farms were getting bigger and invariably an old farmer sitting in the back would say, ‘the good Lord did not intend for forty thousand hogs to shit on the same spot.’ Now that they routinely do, we do need some rules.
    Approximately ten years ago we had a large unexplained fish kill in the Big Sioux by Dell Rapids. I asked one of the city engineers from Sioux Falls that checks water quality for the city ‘what happened.’ Professionals can change subjects real fast and I changed it back right away. I asked if a CAFO lagoon spill could have done that. Well the professional changed the subject real fast again and inserted some comment about being positive. I never did get an answer.
    So now we have one hundred sixty thousand people drinking from the same river so we need to keep track of how much of what comes from forty thousand hogs goes into said river.
    Now Mr. Rounds does not want the EPA to get their noses curled up in knots from the smell of forty thousand hogs affecting the water of one hundred sixty thousand people since he thinks this is a local problem. But he does not remember that the Big Sioux supplies water to other states as well. Since that river keeps flowing and Sioux Falls does not drink one hundred percent of the water, then the EPA should check it as well. So if Sioux Falls drinks every drop of the Big Sioux is the only way that the feds would not check the river.

  5. Kathy Tyler 2015-09-14 15:43

    Is this draft better than the expired permit? Yes. But it all boils down to enforcement. Who’s the watchdog? If I see manure being spread on too steep of a sidehill or next to a stream, what do I do? Try and find the complaint form on their website..oofta! What’s the timeframe for inspection? (There have been instances when the inspection of a complaint was too late to see the actual infraction.) And to be honest (as I usually am), the DENR does not have a very good reputation for enforcing its rules/regulations. It would be interesting to see how many actual violations there have been and what the consequences were for those violations.

  6. leslie 2015-09-14 21:24

    again, in the heap leach days the miners were constantly scrutinized when leaks occurred and DENR was usually forced to report the consequences.

  7. Deb Geelsdottir 2015-09-14 22:18

    Do I understand that a berm can be built around the sh#t pit? Those do work, at least for next door neighbors. I lived in Huron for a couple years in the mid 1970s and friends lived out of town to the east.

    Looking at the satellite view of Google maps, I don’t think the place is there any longer. It was about 1/2 mile east of the intersection of Custer Ave SE and 290th St, on the south side. There were 2 city lagoons on the north side and no others. The berms were tall, at least 10 feet. There was no stink at their place, regardless of wind direction. I was surprised at the lack of smell. The same wasn’t true for people farther away.

    So berms work within a limited radius.

  8. leslie 2015-09-15 18:40

    Noem & Thune’s fear of EPA/COE’s expanded definition of WOTUS (waters of the United States) by regulation, as federal interference with farming thus usurping ground water regulation from state agencies; are CAFOs lobbying them to avoid responsibility for ground water/surface water pollution?

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