TWIN FALLS • Federal regulators hope a new permit governing confined-animal feeding operations will better protect Idaho’s surface waters.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the new permit will regulate water runoff created by the state’s larger livestock producers of beef and dairy cattle, poultry, sheep and pigs.
This new version replaces an earlier permit that expired in 2003, said Jim Werntz, Idaho’s EPA state director.
Major changes include only requiring the permit for producers who actually discharge waste into surface waters rather than who propose such a discharge.
“There is a certain level of producer responsibility, which in and of itself makes it difficult to know how many people are going to apply,” Werntz said. “We think it’s going to be a smaller number.”
Werntz estimated that only about 30 producers will apply for the permit.
The agency’s new guidelines also make a producer’s nutrient management plan — how much manure is handled and how it’s treated — a public document. That differs from state law, which doesn’t allow public scrutiny of such documents.
“I don’t think we expect producers to say this is a great permit,” Werntz said.
The goal is to protect “waters of the U.S.,” a definition that has been contested for years, said Nick Peak, the EPA’s regional CAFO coordinator based in Boise.
For example, it remains unclear if many of the Magic Valley’s canal systems fall under the agency’s scrutiny, Peak said.
“When it comes down to it, it’s a case-by-case basis,” he said. “… If a producer lives close to a canal, I would suggest that they talk to us first before choosing not to apply.”
Idaho Dairymen’s Association Executive Director Bob Naerebout said he isn’t worried about the new permit.
Naerebout hadn’t seen the finalized version of the permit when contacted by the Times-News, but encouraged producers not to apply. He argued that Idaho’s CAFO rules provide more stringent measures against discharge than the EPA’s regulations.
“If you are following the state laws, there is no need to sign up for the permit,” he said.
However, both Peak and Werntz said that it is better for producers to apply for a permit than end up facing an agency investigation.