Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation General Permit

Permiso de Operación de Alimentación de Animales Confinados

Para obtener más información, comuníquese con Chelsea Morris al 360-764-0890.

We issue the Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) General Permits to operations that confine livestock for long periods of time in pens or barns and discharge pollution to surface or groundwater. The permits require specific pollution prevention practices of facilities, such as collecting runoff and storing manure, land applying nutrients according to crop budgets, and adapting practices based on soil test results to protect water quality.

What is a CAFO?

Commercial and/or industrial operations that produce animal and animal-based products that confine and feed large numbers of livestock and poultry in a small area. Animals are confined depending on the type of animal. At times, the confined animals may be pastured or given access to outside spaces.

These operations must deal with large quantities of potentially polluting materials like: animal feces and urine, leftover feed, wash water, bedding material, and contaminated rainwater. They collect these materials and may treat or store them before it is used as fertilizer and soil amendments for growing crops. This material is rich in organic matter and nutrients.

For a short explanation of the permit, please read the CAFO focus sheet.

Who needs a permit

This permit is for large commercial operations. We use a permitting threshold and how the operation handles their waste to determine if they need a permit. For example, operations with more than 200 head of dairy cows, 750 pigs, or 9,000 chickens would likely need a permit. If you have a farm with fewer animals, you are too small to automatically qualify for this permit. If we see a manure problem at a smaller farm, we will work with owners to give guidance on the best management practices that protect water quality. We often partner with local groups, such as conservation districts, to identify resources and financial assistance opportunities that may be available to help with this work. 

How do we regulate CAFOs?

We establish best management practices for CAFOs to prevent pollution and protect waters of the state. We implement state rules with a general permit program designed to meet federal Clean Water Act requirements. A CAFO General Permit is issued to operations that confine livestock for long periods of time in pens or barns and discharge pollution to surface or groundwater.

We provide education and technical assistance to achieve voluntary compliance with the permit. When an individual or business is not in compliance, education and technical assistance is often enough to correct the problem. When it isn't, we use other enforcement tools, ranging from warning letters to enforcement actions.

We partner with Washington State Department of Agriculture’s (WSDA) Dairy Nutrient Management Program to implement the permits. WSDA is the principal inspector of dairies and permitted CAFOs. We work together to ensure compliance with the permits.

For a short explanation of the permit, please read the CAFO focus sheet.

Why do we regulate CAFOs?

Manure and waste material generated on CAFOs can pose substantial risks to the environment and public health if not properly managed. Manure and waste materials can enter surface and groundwaters during rain events, spills, infrastructure and equipment failures, or by the improper application of manure to fields. Potential water pollutants come from feed or manure, turbidity from various operational practices, temperature from process water or lack of riparian vegetation, and chemical compounds.

Permit reissuance

We invited comments on the draft CAFO general permits from June 22, 2022 to Aug. 17, 2022. Currently, we are reviewing and considering all comments we received. We'll publish a Response to Comments as an appendix to the fact sheet to address comments submitted during the public comment period.

For more information: 

Draft permit documents

Comment period and hearings

We accepted comments online, by mail, and during our public hearings. Comments are available for viewing on our online comments form.

We held webinar workshops and public hearings on the proposed changes July 26 and 28, 2022. During the workshop, we explained the proposed changes to the permit and answered questions. The public hearing began immediately following each workshop and concluded when public testimony was complete. Interpretation was available for Spanish speakers at both webinars.

Reissuance history

We began the reissuance process with informal listening sessions in January 2021 (see timeline below). In June 2021, the Washington State Court of Appeals issued their decision on the CAFO General Permit appeal. The court affirmed part and reversed part of the October 2018 decision by the Pollution Control Hearings Board (PCHB) (search for case no. P17-016c). The permits were sent back to Ecology (remanded) for rewriting to make them consistent with the court’s decisions. Because the court’s decision requires significant changes, we revised our reissuance schedule and held a second round of public listening sessions in Fall 2021. We held a formal public comment period on the draft permit, and formal public meetings and hearings. We plan to make a permit reissuance decision by the end of 2022.

The current permit expired on March 2, 2022; see below for more information.  


Winter 2021: Informal listening sessions
June 2021: Court of Appeals decision issued
Fall 2021: Informal listening sessions
March 2022: Current permit expired 
June/Aug. 2022: Formal public comment period on the draft permit
End of 2022: Decision on permit reissuance

Listening sessions

We held our first listening sessions before the June 2021 Court of Appeals decision. We held two more virtual public listening sessions with live Spanish interpretation in October 2021, focused on the court’s decision. We accepted written feedback via our online comment form.

Get email updates

Join our CAFO email list to receive notifications about this permit.

Current permit & related documents

Information for permit holders

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