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Hearings Set on Water Protection Permits for Livestock Farms
Wisconsin Ag Connection - 02/22/2010

Two proposed general permits covering livestock operations of different sizes will be the topic of public hearings statewide in March and April, and a public comment period through April 23. According to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, the state is proposing to issue standardized water protection permits known as 'general permits' instead of writing the permits individually as a way to free up time for compliance and inspections of large-scale livestock operations.

"Wisconsin has among the most rigorous permitting standards in the nation right now, and our proposed general permits have the same requirements," says Gordon Stevenson, who leads the Department of Natural Resources runoff management section. "But we are the last state to use individual permits for large-scale livestock operations."

Stevenson says since the requirements for many of these large operations are the same, there is limited need for DNR staff to draft each permit individually. Switching to standardized general permits would allow DNR staff to spend more time in the field inspecting those livestock operations to make sure they are following requirements for manure storage, handling, spreading, and other activities.

"Such activities, when done improperly, can lead to manure spills or manure runoff and potential pollution of lakes, streams and drinking water supplies and fish kills," he notes. "The plan is to inspect each permitted facility twice during their five year period, up from a single inspection of a subset of facilities."

The DNR says switching to the general permits also would allow DNR staff to issue the permits on a more timely basis. Under state and federal law, largescale livestock operations are allowed to expand and operate in accordance with a water protection permit, and it's DNR's responsibility to issue those permits and ensure that operations comply with permit conditions.

Under state and federal law, large farms must get water protection permits when they reach 1,000 animal units, or about 700 milking cows, because of the volume of their manure and the increased potential risk it poses to Wisconsin waters if a spill or runoff occurs.

An operation with a complete and credible permit application receives a permit. There are now 188 permits, which must be renewed every five years. They are operating permits that apply only to water protection and do not give the DNR authority to address where such an operation is sited, nor air, odor, traffic, lighting or other concerns that may be present.

For more information about the proposed changes, call 608-267-2759.

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