Water Quality: DEQ Helps Animal Feeding Operations Improve Waste Management

By Don Hall

Utah has about 2,000 animal production facilities known as animal feeding operations (AFOs). These are farms such as dairies and feedlots where animals are confined (not in pastures or on rangeland) and fed. Larger AFOs are known as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOS). These are operations that meet a confinement threshold number such as 1,000 beef animals for feedlots and 700 cows for dairies. There are about 55 CAFOs in the state.

AFOs and CAFOs are required by federal and state rules to prevent pollution of Utah’s surface waters by controlling production areas and keeping solid and liquid wastes from discharging offsite. In Utah, the Division of Water Quality (DWQ) is responsible to ensure that AFOs and CAFOs follow both state and federal water quality requirements.

Collaborative Efforts to Assist CAFOs

I work in DWQ’s AFO/CAFO program, where I help oversee compliance of AFOs and CAFOs to the state’s water quality rules. Ensuring compliance of several thousand farms by one person is a daunting task.

Fortunately, since 1999, agricultural groups, producer’s groups, and state and federal agencies in Utah have worked collaboratively with DWQ to provide a voluntary and non-regulatory compliance assistance program to AFOs. This effort to assist AFO producers was known as the Utah Strategy. Work under the Utah Strategy included education, on-farm visits to assess compliance needs, and cost-share and low-interest loans to fund construction of new waste containment structures and management practices.

The Utah Strategy’s formal agreement with the partners ended in 2008. However, compliance assistance continues through the cooperative efforts of partners. Through the Utah Strategy and continued work by the partners, hundreds of AFOs have improved manure management and utilization to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus impacts on waters of the state. The partnership consists of the following groups:

New Requirements for AFOs and CAFOs

In 2012, EPA issued a new CAFO rule. DWQ is required to implement EPA requirements into state programs. In 2013, Utah issued its state CAFO rule. One of the important changes in the new federal and state rules is that only AFOs and CAFOs that discharge pollutants to a state water are required to obtain a Utah Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (UPDES) CAFO permit from DWQ.

The CAFO permit has strict requirements to protect water quality. It is anticipated that several AFOs will need to obtain the CAFO permit as required for any illegal discharges that occur. The CAFO permit can be found on the Utah Department of Environmental Quality website.

Want to learn more about the AFO and CAFO program? Please contact me at (801) 536-4492.

Don HallI am the AFO/CAFO Coordinator in the Division of Water Quality. I have over 19 years of experience in AFO and CAFO water quality programs. I received a Bachelor of Science degree in environmental science from Northern Arizona State University. I received a Master of Science degree in agribusiness from Arizona State University. When I’m not telling farmers to get their crap together, I enjoy spending time with my family.