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.
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 entire 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.
We received a request to extend our public comment period. We have extended the comment period by two weeks. The comments are now due by August 17, 2022.
We invite comments on the draft CAFO general permits beginning June 22, 2022, until 11:59 p.m. on Aug. 17, 2022. After the close of the comment period, we'll publish a Response to Comments as an appendix to the fact sheet to address comments submitted during the public comment period. Read our press release for more information.
Draft permit documents
How to provide comments
We will accept comments from June 22, 2022, until 11:59 p.m. on August 17, 2022.
You may submit comments:
Submit your comments through our online comments form (preferred method)
- By mail:
Washington State Department of Ecology
PO Box 47696
Olympia, WA 98504-7696
- In person:
Comments were recorded during our online public hearings
Workshop and hearings
We held workshops and public hearings on the proposed changes in July. 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.
We recorded oral testimony on the proposed changes. Written comments will receive the same consideration as oral testimony.
Workshop and hearing dates
- Tuesday, July 26, 2022 – Webinar, 10 a.m.
- Thursday, July 28, 2022 – Webinar, 6 p.m.
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 are currently holding 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
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.
In response to the court of appeals decision, we have updated our current permit language.
Proposed changes to the permit we considered include:
- Clarifying requirements for repairing liquid manure lagoons and composting solid materials
- Requiring monitoring of surface water and groundwater
- Revising public review process for nutrient management plans
- Clarifying land application requirements on very high risk fields
Get email updates
Join our CAFO email list to receive notifications about this permit.
Who needs to apply
You must get this permit if you:
- Confine livestock in pens or barns for 45 days or more during the year.
- Discharge from your operation.
Current permit & related documents
Information for permit holders