The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is weighing Department of Natural Resources proposals for improving protection of the state’s waterways.
In response to an EPA investigative report that found some of the DNR’s manure-control measures inadequate, the DNR has submitted an 11-page document outlining steps to more effectively enforce provisions of the Clean Water Act.
The EPA, which has until Jan. 31 to determine if the DNR plan meets its approval, said in its report that the state has not properly inspected livestock facilities and failed in its duties about half the time when responding to livestock pollution.
DNR spokesman Kevin Baskins said the agency has focused more on encouraging compliance than on punishing livestock producers for failure to follow environmental rules.
“We think it’s working. During the past 10 years, the rate of manure discharges has fallen from 5.2 percent to 2.5 percent in confinements with more than 1,000 animal units,” he said.
Some of that improvement, he said, is attributable to the increased value of manure as fertilizer, which encourages farmers to handle it with care.
In a July 12 letter to DNR Director Chuck Gipp, the EPA said , based on its initial assessment, that some portions of the DNR’s CAFO (Confined Animal Feeding Operation) regulation program appear not to comply with provisions of the Clean Water Act.
Those shortcomings, spelled out in a 40-page report, included failure to adequately respond to Clean Water Act violations, failure to issue discharge permits when required by law to do so and failure to assess adequate penalties for violations.
The EPA said its investigation was prompted by complaints filed by Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, the Sierra Club, and the Environmental Integrity Project. In their petition those public interest groups urged that the EPA relieve the DNR of its responsibilities in regulating animal feeding operations.
“EPA correctly concluded that an effective program will include the need for more significant penalties for CAFOs that discharge pollutants without a permit. Penalties must be more than just a cost of doing business,” said Wally Taylor, legal chairman of the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club.
Although the Iowa Department of Natural Resources has documented more than 800 illegal discharges from CAFOs over the past 15 years, and has identified more than 500 polluted waters throughout the state, it has yet to issue a single Clean Water Act discharge permit to a confinement operation, or even to update its regulations to comply with federal rules for CAFOs that discharge pollution, according to the complainants.