Department of Ecology News Release - January 18, 2017

Ecology updates clean water permit to regulate manure pollution

New permit will require large-scale livestock operations in Washington to implement specific practices to better protect groundwater, rivers, lakes and marine waters from manure pollution.

The Washington Department of Ecology today issued an updated water quality permit requiring large-scale livestock operations in Washington to implement specific practices to better protect groundwater, rivers, lakes and marine waters from manure pollution.

Changes to the updated Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) Permit follow substantial stakeholder engagement and public feedback. The permit regulates dairies and other types of operations that confine large numbers of livestock.

Manure management is important to protect healthy swimming beaches, shellfish resources and fish-bearing waters. Also, livestock manure can cause nitrates in drinking water, which can pose a health risk.

The new permit could expand coverage from a few dairies to approximately 200 facilities.

“We have developed a more protective permit that gives livestock operators clear direction on how to meet environmental requirements to protect surface and groundwater,” said Heather Bartlett, manager of Ecology’s Water Quality Program.

The permit builds on current frameworks and processes already in place. The Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) will continue as the principal inspector of dairies and will partner with the Department of Ecology to implement the water quality permit.

“We are looking forward to working with Ecology and our state’s dairy community in support of a successful implementation. It makes sense for WSDA to coordinate our Dairy Nutrient Management Program with Ecology’s updated water quality permit,” said Kirk Robinson, WSDA Deputy Director.

Specifics about the new permit

  • The permit does not directly apply to small operations, such as dairies with less than 200 cows.
  • Includes new requirements about how and when manure can be spread onto crops and soils to prevent manure runoff and seepage into groundwater.
  • If soil tests show high nitrate levels, the operator must stop or limit manure spreading, or monitor the groundwater.
  • Requires manure lagoons to be assessed to provide construction, maintenance, size and site details to help determine the pollution risk they pose.
  • Offers a two-permit approach that allows CAFOs to obtain the type of permit coverage that matches their discharge. For example, facilities with surface water discharges must be covered by a combined state/federal permit. Facilities with groundwater discharges must obtain coverage by either a state-only or a combined state/federal permit. Facilities that have both types of discharges will need the combined permit.

Yakima and Whatcom counties have elevated levels of nitrates in groundwater and the highest number of cows and dairies. These areas are particularly vulnerable if manure is not appropriately managed.

In the Lower Yakima Valley, a Groundwater Management Area has been established and Yakima County is leading a multi-jurisdictional group to reduce sources of nitrate pollution so that groundwater meets state drinking water standards.

Health officials emphasize that if people are drinking from a private well, they should get the well water tested at least once a year. Find out more by visiting the state Department of Health website.

Ecology will hold informational workshops about the updated permit in the coming months.

Contact information

Sandy Howard
Communications manager