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Release Date: 03/05/98
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In its first action under the Clinton Administration’s new Clean Water Action Plan to finish the job of cleaning up the nation’s rivers, lakes and streams, EPA is releasing for public comment a draft strategy to minimize the public health and environmental impacts from animal feeding operations (AFOs). The strategy calls for new water pollution control requirements and immediate inspections and increased enforcement for large animal feeding operations to reduce animal waste runoff into waterways.

“Last month, President Clinton pledged to finish the job of cleaning up America’s waterways, and today we are taking a major step to make good on that pledge by controlling runoff from animal feeding operations -- a major source of water pollution,” said EPA Administrator, Carol M. Browner. “Rural and urban runoff account for more than half of all water pollution, and runoff from animal feeding operations in particular has been associated with threats to human health and the environment.”

Animal feeding operations are livestock-raising operations, such as hog, cattle and poultry farms, that confine and concentrate animal populations and their wastes. Animal waste, if not managed properly, can run off to nearby water bodies and cause serious water pollution and public health risks. There are approximately 450,000 AFOs in the United States. About 6,600 of these operations are fall into the largest catagory and are referred to as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs).

The draft strategy calls for agressive enforcement of Clean Water Act permit requirements and an increase in facilities permitted. It also calls for the implementation of an expanded range of regulatory and permitting tools by EPA and the states. It is intended to foster a dialogue with the regulated community and other members of the public on how to better protect public health and the environment around these facilities and to encourage voluntary actions.

Agricultural practices across the United States are estimated to contribute to the degradation of 60 percent of the nation’s surveyed rivers and streams that are impaired. Feedlots alone are estimated to adversely impact l6 percent of waters that are impaired from agricultural practices.

Although some concentrated animal feeding operations have been regulated under the Clean Water Act since the early l970s, the concentration of animals at larger feeding operations and the availability of new waste management technologies and runoff controls have heightened awareness that additional controls are needed. Increasing incidences of animal waste discharges into waterways have led to drinking water contamination, fish kills, nuisance odors and other environmental problems.

Reductions in animal waste runoff will decrease the amount of excess nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) entering surface water bodies. While a definitive conclusion has yet to be reached, many scientists believe that high levels of nutrients have led to the toxic microorganism “pfiesteria” outbreaks in North Carolina and in the Maryland and Virginia tributaries to the Chesapeake Bay. Excessive nutrient levels also have been responsible for lower oxygen levels in surface waters throughout the United States, including the Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

Protection of surface and ground water also protects drinking water resources throughout the United States. Reductions in leaching from manure storage lagoons will protect groundwater resources from nitrate and pathogen contamination.

As part of this strategy, EPA also is releasing a final enforcement strategy, the “Compliance Assurance Implementation Plan for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.” The plan provides for increased targeted CAFO inspections based on environmental risk: states and EPA regions will inspect all high priority CAFOs in three years with the remainder in five years. In addition, the final enforcement strategy provides for increased compliance assistance through EPA’s Compliance Agricultural Assistance Center in Kansas City; increased enforcement, especially against those CAFOs that are discharging in violation of an existing permit; development of state-specific compliance/enforcement strategies; a national enforcement initiative; and increased support to regions and states in the form of inspector training, targeting assistance and development of enforcement tools.

The draft strategy calls for a significant increase in the number of CAFOs that are regulated and permitted under the Clean Water Act. It sets goals for EPA and the states to fully regulate and issue Clean Water Act permits to the largest CAFOs by 2002 and to fully regulate and permit all other CAFOs and priority facilities in impaired watersheds by 2005. Currently, only about a quarter of the CAFOs have permits.

EPA and states will expand efforts to ensure that all permits include comprehensive waste management requirements, including land application conditions, and will revise regulations to support this effort by December 2001. In addition, EPA will revise national environmental guidelines for allowable levels of waste flowing from poultry and swine facilities by December 2001 and national guidelines for cattle and dairy facilities by December 2002.

In 1999, EPA will identify and list priority watersheds at greatest risk from AFOs.

The draft strategy also calls for increased cooperation among federal agencies and states to provide funding, public involvement, educational and technical support; a research and development program and use of state-of-the-art technologies; and a program to apply non-regulatory, innovative approaches, whenever possible. It will serve as a basis for a unified EPA/USDA joint national strategy later this year.

The draft strategy was compiled with help from other federal agencies, state agencies, environmental and citizens’ groups, industry and farm groups.

Copies of the draft strategy are available from EPA’s Water Resource Center at 202-260-7786 or on the Internet at Written comments will be accepted until May 1, l998, and may be submitted to Ruby Cooper-Ford, U.S. EPA, Mail Code 4203, Washington, D. C. 20460, or by e-mail:

Copies of the final enforcement strategy, the “Compliance Assurance Implementation Plan for CAFOs,” will be available on the Internet at:, or by contacting Michelle Stevenson at 202-564-2355.

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