Tips on Testifying on the CAFO Permit

Your farm, family, and future will be affected by this CAFO permit. It is very important to understand the impact and make comments. When doing so, speak about what you know best — your life, family, farm, and livelihood. Let public officials know what it is like to care for the environment every day.

The following are examples of things you may want to talk about during the hearing:

  • The history of your farm
  • Examples of the conservation work you have done on your farm — nutrient management, wildlife habitat, water quality protection, etc.
  • Investments you have made in conservation and environmental protection — equipment, systems, nutrient management, monitoring, buffers, wetlands, conservation tillage, etc.
  • Awards about, recognition of, and pride in your stewardship — clean water, productive cows, healthy crops, jobs, etc.
  • Community service in the environment — service on conservation district boards, watershed improvement districts, irrigation districts, groundwater management boards, etc.
  • Innovative projects — digesters to produce power and recycle nutrients; energy efficiency projects such as fans, lighting, variable frequency pumps, etc.
  • Your past and ongoing compliance with existing rules and guidance from WSDA, NRCS, CD, and private consultants; your updates to farm plans, the time and expense of consultants, work with technical experts at CDs and NRCS.
  • Your ongoing education in stewardship and nutrient management.

Ask “Why more regulations?” The report from WSDA shows that dairy producers are doing the work that is resulting in high levels of compliance and protection for surface and groundwater. Data across the state shows that diary is already doing its part. While more can always be done, this extra permit is unnecessary, and increased and unnecessary costs mean less money to invest in other places.

The nutrient management system is working. The data confirms that dairy producers and work with CDs, NRCS, WSU, etc., is working to protect the environment.

Where is the problem that demands such a burdensome, additional layer of regulations? Why regulate us more?

Here is a video developed by Whatcom Family Farmers about the CAFO permit that may be helpful when you prepare testimony.

And here are several videos about environmental efforts by dairy producers:

CAFO Permit Overview

The proposed CAFO permit has two options: A combined federal/state permit (if there are surface water discharges) and a state-only groundwater permit. Dairies with fewer than 200 mature cows would be exempt. All dairies with lagoons are presumed to be dischargers and would need one of the permits.

Requirements for either permit would include:

  1. Fall and spring soil tests
  2. Daily/weekly inspection of systems (including in-ground portions)
  3. Manure pollution prevention plan
  4. Provide an engineering assessment on lagoons (within two years of permit issuance)
  5. 100-foot buffer (from waters/wetlands) of no spreading of nutrients or use of a 35-foot vegetated buffer
  6. Manure testing
  7. Public disclosure of reports
  8. Limits on nutrient application
  9. Other requirements

While the state or combined permits would provide some degree of protection in the face of lawsuits, the preliminary estimate of compliance are extremely high:

  • Estimated costs to a 300-acre western Washington farm, with 10 percent loss (corn) due to buffers from any waters of the state, equals $36,000/year.
  • Estimated costs to a 1000-acre eastern Washington farm, with 10 percent loss (corn/triticale rotation), equals $185,000/year.


CAFO Permit Suggested Comments and Alternative Solutions

Allow the use of fertilizer and manure when using reasonable and scientifically backed Best Management Practices that have been used for years by dairy farmers across the US and the planet to prevent nutrients from getting in surface water. The goal is to keep the nutrients and pathogens out of the water! Let us figure out how to perform and accomplish that goal. These are example alternatives to a static 100-foot “no-application setback” including:

  • Seasonally variable buffers (i.e., 200-300 foot setbacks during wetter months, 5-10-20 foot setbacks when precision application methods used or alongside dry watercourses and or during dry season).
  • Precision application, such as injection of liquid or precision applied liquids or solids.
  • Incorporation of manure or application to roughened soil conditions or harvestable grass buffers (i.e., setbacks bigger if bare soils or steeper slopes; smaller if low/ no slope fields or with significant crop or stubble cover.)
  • Dikes, berms or roads separate field from waterbody. (Water can’t run up hill!)
  • Use of technology like Application Risk Management program to better ensure applications are done during correct weather conditions to prevent runoff.

Soil testing should mirror current testing requirements and recommendations used by WSDA, recommendations by NRCS (590), land grant universities, conservation districts. Annual spring tests on every field is duplicative of much of the information in the fall tests (P, K, Ph, organic matter) levels do not usually change much, and eastern Washington N levels will not vary much fall to spring.) Allow continued use of the NRCS 590 standard used in the nutrient management inspections. The standard is working!

Replace the requirement for a professional engineer evaluation of lagoons with WSDA/NRCS lagoon risk assessment. Lagoons scoring high on the risk assessment need corrective actions to lower or eliminate risk.

Seasonal application windows. Allow the successful BMPs that have been incorporated in farm plans for the past 20 years, including the use of Application Risk Management. Allow for use of the winter period application guideline (NRCS Agronomy Tech Note 14). Use T-sum 200 as a beginning guidepost for start of season applications rather than the vague term “spring green up.” The “no application to bare soil unless within 30 days of planting” is arbitrary, without scientific basis. Field applications should occur when weather and soil conditions are appropriate and science shows risk to water quality is minimal or zero. (See seasonal variable buffers and other BMP science documents available at

The uncertain regulatory interpretations, unknown capital and annual cost burdens of permit compliance imposed on virtually all dairy farms for little to no reason is illogical and indefensible.  If a lagoon is deemed high risk (by a risk assessment process that already exists) then help the farmer get it fixed or replaced. (NRCS, WSDA and conservation districts have been doing that for years.) Otherwise, where is the big problem that demands new, extraneous, worrisome, financially overwhelming regulations? Add to this the judgments, edicts and interpretations of a few staff at a new agency – Ecology – with their added set of terms, standards and conditions. Why?

The dairy farmers of this state have followed the guidance of WSDA, WSU, OSU, the Conservation Commission, private agronomists, planners and engineers. The dairy farms have built, maintained and managed their farm plans to achieve more protection for water quality than most any other sector of our society. Yet Ecology finds these existing programs, practices and procedures not good enough! This permit, under these conditions, is an answer in search of a problem. Yes, there are producers who will need or want this permit. For them, the changes above will help make it possible to implement a permit and still survive. For the rest of the farms, the permit should and must remain optional. Barring significant changes, this permit is an impossible option.