CAFO Determinations - Review the Federal Requirements
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By Gene Tinker, Iowa Department of Natural Resources
A livestock feeding operation can be a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) based on 1) size (1,000 animal units or larger), 2) size and management or location (300 to 999 animal units with a direct discharge to a water of the United States or a water of the U.S. running through the operation), or 3) designation as a CAFO due to a significant contribution of manure or process wastewater to waters of the U.S.
CAFO determination for an animal feeding operation is important because it determines how the facility may operate. In Iowa confinement operations are no discharge systems, so having a CAFO determination normally isn’t an issue. But for open feedlot operations the CAFO determination impacts whether the operation can have a legal discharge. Open feedlots that are determined to be CAFOs cannot have a discharge of any type without a NPDES permit, which specifies when a discharge is allowed.
A number of open feedlot operations have attempted to avoid the CAFO determination by decreasing the animal numbers in the open feedlot to less than 1,000 head and adding feeding capacity in confinement. The open feedlot law passed in the 2005 legislative session, House File 805, states that animal capacity for confinement feeding operation shall not be combined with animal capacity of open feedlot operations when determining if the operation is a CAFO. This is in direct conflict with EPA’s CAFO regulations (effective April 14, 2003) that combine open feedlot and confinement structures housing the same type of livestock. The recent court ruling on the EPA CAFO regulations has no bearing on determining when an operation is a CAFO.
A little history may help explain how this conflict developed. Laws for the state of Iowa have made a clear distinction between confinement facilities and open feedlot facilities. The type of animals housed in those facilities does not make any difference. Conversely EPA does not distinguish housing type, but combines all animal capacity of the same animal type. So, under regulations effective April 14, 2003, EPA would combine the capacity of open feedlots and confinements if the animal type were the same - that is all beef cattle would be combined or all swine would be combined, but beef cattle and swine would not be combined. The state’s rules combine all animals housed in the same type of facility; so cattle and hogs all raised in confinement would be added together, or all animals in open feedlots would be combined together, but there is no combining animal capacity of open feedlots with animal capacity in confinements.
House File 805 states: “In calculating the animal unit capacity of an open feedlot operation, the animal unit capacity shall not include the animal unit capacity of any confinement feeding operation building . . . which is part of the open feedlot operation.” However producers do need to be aware that EPA does make CAFO visits in the state and may take enforcement action against producers who don’t meet the federal regulations. EPA enforces the federal regulations and state-issued NPDES permits.
Livestock producers who have both confinement and open feedlot facilities need to be aware of the difference in state and federal requirements. They need to assess their operation and determine if their operation would be a CAFO by federal standards. If the operation is a CAFO, they should assess their risk of being visited by EPA and penalized for non-compliance with federal regulations. If a producer is uncertain of whether his or her operation is a CAFO, IDNR should be contacted to help with the assessment. If the operation is a CAFO, the producer should obtain a NPDES permit and follow the guidance in the permit to be in compliance.