In draft plan, EPA sets high bar for Iowa’s enforcement of livestock clean water standards

Two fish in an Iowa waterway died during a manure spill.

Manure spills can wreak havoc on aquatic ecosystems. According to the Council’s analysis, illegal manure spills killed more than 1.2 million fish in Iowa in the last ten years.

After issuing a report last summer (.pdf) criticizing shortcomings in Iowa’s handling of clean water rules related to livestock facilities, the federal Environmental Protection Agency has issued a draft work plan (.pdf) for Iowa’s Department of Natural Resources to improve its oversight of large livestock facilities.

If carried out, the work plan would advance significant new protections for clean water in Iowa, which has suffered significant blows from livestock-related manure spills.  Last year, the Council detailed these impacts with a special report on ten years of livestock manure spill data.


Click the image to view an interactive map of manure spills in your county.

According to that analysis, manure spills killed 1.2 million fish between 2001 and 2011; 42% of spills where manure reached water resulted in no documented monetary penalty issued by the Iowa DNR.

EPA’s proposed work plan includes plans for proactive inspections of Iowa livestock facilities which the Iowa Environmental Council and scores of its individual supporters called for during a public comment period on the issue.

Under the plan, DNR would complete inspections of approximately 8,000 animal feeding operations in the state to assess whether they require permits under the Clean Water Act.

In addition, under the plan, DNR would set new procedures for stronger inspections of livestock facilities to determine whether each facility discharges manure into nearby waterbodies.

Iowa law requires that confinement livestock facilities in Iowa be designed not to discharge pollutants to waterways; enhanced inspections will reveal whether or not that is the case as a facility operates.

To maintain progress on the plan, DNR would complete approximately 1,600 (or 20%) of the facilities each year over five years.  Other rulemaking processes would begin immediately, with the goal of new restrictions being effective early in 2014.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ response to the draft plan is not yet clear.  The agency previously indicated it would pursue additional funding for livestock facility inspectors in the legislature this year.

However, DNR’s proposed staff increases would serve only to restore personnel cuts the agency has made in recent years due to budget reductions.  The Iowa Environmental Council is concerned that additional staff may be needed beyond DNR’s request.

Ultimately, if the Iowa DNR fails to meet the EPA’s expectations for progress, the federal government could take control of the state’s Clean Water Act permit program.

The Council will continue to monitor this dialogue between state and federal officials to ensure Iowa’s rivers and lakes receive the protection from manure spills that Iowans expect.

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