The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued a pared-down Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) final rule to protect the nation's waterways from wastewater and manure.

EPA's proposal to change its 25-year-old rule on CAFOs has been revised to create a new final rule that is less complex and less onerous. Gone from the previous proposal are a “zero discharge” standard and provisions for co-permitting and third-party user certification.

EPA has also simplified the final version, in the process reducing the annual financial burden from $980 million to $335 million. Government (federal and state) will spend $9 million/year to administer the program to be fully implemented by 2007.

But the 400-plus-page federal document still ushers in some strict regulations specifically targeted at the larger hog operations in the U.S., which EPA says pose the greatest environmental risk.

Even with Environmental Quality Improvement Program (EQIP) funding, EPA expects the CAFO rule could result in the closure of 3% of the large CAFOs. (See EQIP story, page 12.)

Permitting Changes

“This rule increases participation by four to five times the number of hogs that are going to be permitted,” remarks David Roper, Kimberly, ID, producer and outgoing president of the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC). “At the end of the day, EPA's goal is to have 80% of the hogs produced in this country under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit system and covered by the CAFO regulations.”

In all, EPA estimates the CAFO rule will cover 15,500 livestock operations of all species, up from 4,500 in 2002.

Under the rule, if livestock operations feed or maintain animals in a confined area for 45 days of the year, or more and meet the size requirement for a CAFO, they will be required to have an approved NPDES permit. The size requirement defining a CAFO is based on the largest number of head that the facility will be handling at any one time over the course of the permit period, explains Tom Hebert, analyst for Capitolink, an agricultural consulting firm in Washington, DC, used by NPPC.

EPA maintains the current permitting structure, defined as large (>2,500 hogs), medium (<2,500 hogs) and small (<750 hogs) categories. Large operations are automatically defined as CAFOs. Medium operations will only be subject to the rule if certain risk factors exist. Small operations are exempt unless an inspector determines the operation is discharging directly into surface waters. Table 1 outlines some CAFO rules.

Table 1. CAFO Requirements by Size of Operation
Requirements <100 A.U.* 100-299 A.U. 300-999 A.U. 1,000 A.U. and up
No pollution; maximize nutrient levels; maintain setbacks. Yes Yes Yes Yes
Manure tests for nitrogen and phosphorus No Yes Yes Yes
Soil test for phosphorus No No Yes Yes
Develop and maintain manure management plan No If permit required If permit required or applied by non-certified person after 2005. Yes
Records of land application No Yes Yes Yes
*A.U. = animal units


And, EPA is mandating a CAFO permit for a new category — an operation with 10,000 or more nursery pigs under 55 lb.

Permits may also be needed for an operation with 750 or more 55-lb. pigs or heavier if:

  • A man-made ditch or pipe carries manure from your operation to surface water; or

  • Your animals come into contact with surface water running through the area where they're confined, explains Capitolink's Hebert.



This will mark the first time that all of the nation's largest operations are automatically defined as CAFOs.

Discharge Rule Changes

The new permitting process under the Clean Water Act requires permits from the states or EPA, regardless of the risk of any manure containment facility discharging during large storms.

“A permit will be required even if your facility already is designed to contain the storm water from a 25-year, 24-hour rainfall event,” points out Hebert.

“All existing operations must contain all of the rain and process wastewater associated with up to a 25-year, 24-hour storm,” he adds. “But if you have a new or significantly expanding swine operation (called “new sources”), then your facility must be designed to contain the rainfall and process wastewater from a 100-year, 24-hour storm.”

Those producers would essentially have to add up to one more foot of freeboard, depending on the design of their lagoon capacity and expected rainfall amounts, Roper says.

Permits are good for five years and producers must submit annual reviews highlighting key information.

Timetable, NPPC Assistance

The final CAFO rule was published in the Federal Register on Feb. 10. EPA will issue guidance to states to implement the CAFO rule in mid-2003. States, which have been given flexibility in adoption, will be given 1-2 years to incorporate any needed changes. Producers with existing CAFOs aren't affected until time of renewal.

Producers seeking to renew permits after 2004 will have to meet the new CAFO requirements.

Producers aren't required to get an On-Farm Assessment and Environmental Review. But NPPC stresses it can be a key tool to help producers identify and address any concerns.

Producers should also work to adopt a nutrient management plan. Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plans developed for the Agriculture Department, will fully meet the nutrient management planning requirements under the NPDES CAFO rule, says Hebert. That plan may include the use of a phosphorus index.

Permitted operations must meet a variety of manure management, land setback and application guidelines, testing requirements and handle dead animals and chemicals properly.

Many of those changes could add significantly to producers' cost of operation, warns Hebert.

Within the next several months, NPPC will be providing producers with what they need to do to get ready for the new EPA regulations.

Hebert and Roper agree that having a permit won't protect producers from environmental lawsuits. But Hebert says having a permit and staying in compliance will make a citizen's suit far less likely to be filed and won.

In return, EPA estimates the CAFO rule will remove 166 million lb. of nutrients and 2.2 billion lb. of sediment loads from existing discharges. Hydrogen sulfide emissions will drop by 12%, methane by 11%, they predict.

Economic benefits, estimated by EPA at $204 to $355 million/year, will be derived from:

  • Increased use of waters for recreation ($166-299 million);

  • Reduced nitrate contamination of private drinking wells ($31-46 million);

  • Better shellfish harvests ($0.3-3.4 million);

  • Fewer fish kills ($100,000);

  • Reduced drinking water treatment ($1.1-1.7 million) costs; and

  • Less loss of livestock to disease ($5.3 million).



EPA projects other benefits for reduced fecal contamination, reduced eutrophication (aquatic losses caused by excessive nutrient loading), reduced human health and ecological risks, improved soil quality and less use of fertilizers.

To learn more about the rule, click on http://www.epa.gov/npdes/caforule. Hard copies of these documents are available by calling the Office of Water Resource Center, (202) 566-1729. Additional information is available via the CAFO phone line at (202) 564-0766 and on USDA's Web site http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/afo.