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Iowa CAFO Water Program Improvements - Questions & Answers

What actions have been taken by EPA and IDNR today?

EPA has reached an agreement with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) to correct deficiencies in Iowa’s Clean Water Act (CWA) permit and compliance program for concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).  The agreement includes specific actions the IDNR intends to take to remedy identified deficiencies and a timeline for implementation of those actions.

What does the final Work Plan Agreement require the Iowa DNR to do?

When does the work plan go into effect?

EPA and IDNR have agreed upon a final Work Plan Agreement that was signed by both agencies and became effective on September 11, 2013.  The Work Plan Agreement became effective immediately upon signature and is published on www.epa.gov/region7/water

What has been the public’s involvement in this deauthorization petition process? 

This agreement, developed after extensive public and industry input, commits the IDNR to make needed and achievable improvements to the program that keeps CAFOs compliant with the CWA.  EPA considered approximately 400 public comments in its assessment of IDNR’s proposed actions to address deficiencies identified in EPA’s initial findings. These comments were taken into consideration in the drafting of the final agreement. Transparency and public comment are important components in this process and EPA has taken a number of steps to involve the public.

EPA Region 7 has posted the documents relevant to this work plan and withdrawal petition on its webpage and continues to update the webpage with up-to-date information.  The address for this webpage is www.epa.gov/region7/water/

What prompted the development of this work plan?

EPA’s investigation of Iowa’s permit and compliance program for CAFOs was carried out in response to a deathorization petition for withdrawal of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program authorization from IDNR that was filed in 2007 by 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.

What actions did EPA take?

Since the petition was filed in 2007, EPA has met with the petitioners several times to discuss their allegations.  EPA has also worked with the Iowa DNR to address areas where its CAFO program did not meet federal requirements.  In 2008, 2009 and 2010, the Iowa legislature revised Iowa’s animal feeding operation and general NPDES statutes to meet federal requirements.

In 2011, EPA’s staff visited IDNR offices and reviewed approximately 150 AFO/CAFO site files and statewide enforcement and compliance data.  In addition, EPA requested clarifying information from IDNR related to their CAFO program and the state’s implementation of that program. 

On July 12, 2012, EPA released a report outlining its initial findings, which identified deficiencies in IDNR’s program that the state agency will need to correct.  Among other findings, EPA found that IDNR does not have an adequate program to assess whether unpermitted CAFOs need NPDES permits. The findings also noted that IDNR must clarify its authority to issue NPDES permits to confinement (roofed) CAFOs that discharge.  EPA also found that in a number of cases involving CWA violations, IDNR failed to take timely and adequate enforcement actions, and assess adequate penalties.

The implementation of the Work Plan is the next step in EPA and IDNR’s effort to address the issues identified in EPA’s 2012 report.

What is a deauthorization petition?

A deauthorization petition is a request made by an interested person alleging that the state’s implementation of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program has failed to comply with the requirements of the Clean Water Act or EPA regulations.  In this case, the Petitioners are the Environmental Integrity Project, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, and the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club. The petition initiates a procedure that requires the EPA to evaluate a state’s NPDES program in light of the allegations made in the petition. 

What were the allegations made by the Petitioners?

The Petitioners made a total of 31 allegations that EPA has grouped into four primary categories as follows: 
  1. Iowa’s statutes and regulations are not as stringent as what is required by the Clean Water Act;
  2. Iowa’s NPDES permits are not sufficiently stringent in that they do not include certain requirements contained in the federal CAFO regulations;
  3. IDNR fails to permit discharging CAFOs that require NPDES permits; and
  4. IDNR fails to administer an adequate CAFO enforcement program because they do not adequately investigate CWA violations and seek adequate penalties to deter noncompliance by the regulated community. 
What were the initial findings of EPA’s informal investigation? 
  1. IDNR is not issuing NPDES permits to CAFOs when appropriate. 
  2. IDNR has not conducted a comprehensive survey to determine whether unpermitted CAFOs need NPDES permits;
  3. In a number of cases reviewed, IDNR failed to follow its enforcement response policy when addressing CWA/NPDES permit violations;
  4. IDNR is not assessing adequate penalties against CAFOs;
  5. Iowa’s land application setbacks are not equivalent to federal requirements and are not included in IDNR-approved nutrient management plans. 

How will EPA and the public know if the IDNR is meeting the objectives of this Work Plan Agreement?

The IDNR has agreed to provide annual progress reports to EPA. These reports will be available on IDNR’s website.  EPA will also be monitoring DNR’s progress throughout the implementation of this Work Plan.   EPA will be reviewing and approving certain documents to make sure they meet the federal minimum requirements, where appropriate.  It is the goal of EPA and IDNR to address the areas of Iowa’s NPDES program, as identified in EPA’s preliminary findings that require improvement.

Can the IDNR inspector include other violations during the CAFO inspection?

The work plan requires IDNR to perform a comprehensive survey of all large CAFOs and medium AFOs 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 requirements. The work plan does not impact or alter IDNR inspectorsí duty to identify and report other violations.

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