IEC and partners submit comments for stronger CAFO rules

posted on Thursday, June 15, 2023 in Water and Land News

Local, state, and national groups recommend changes to draft CAFO rules

DES MOINES, IA -- A coalition of environmental organizations submitted comments to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) requesting stronger protections for water quality in Iowa’s concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) rules. 

The group requested DNR increase protections for karst terrain, adopt a floodplain map, and require electronic plans for manure management. The Iowa Environmental Council and Environmental Law & Policy Center previously petitioned DNR to adopt rules on several of those issues. 

The coalition submitting comments includes ten organizations: Allamakee County Protectors - Education Campaign, Common Good Iowa, Environmental Law & Policy Center, Food & Water Watch, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, Iowa Environmental Council, Jefferson County Farmers and Neighbors, Poweshiek CARES, Socially Responsible Agriculture Project, and Southern Boone County Neighbors.  

"Iowans have faced polluted lakes, rivers, streams, and groundwater for decades," said Michael Schmidt, staff attorney for the Iowa Environmental Council (IEC). "DNR can take steps to fix those problems with this rulemaking. Iowans are paying for CAFO pollution in so many ways, and DNR must take steps to protect the public rather than the polluters." 

The comments also highlight how CAFOs evade regulations required for larger confinements. More than 2,500 operations in Iowa have registered as being just below the 1,000 animal unit threshold in rule to complete the master matrix and submit manure management documents. 

"People have taken advantage of loopholes to get around the rules, keeping the DNR and the public in the dark," said Diane Rosenberg, Executive Director of Jefferson County Farmers & Neighbors. "It’s unfair for people to evade basic requirements meant to prevent manure from getting into our water and to protect neighbors from confinements sited too close to their homes. We are asking the DNR to close those loopholes." 

DNR released the draft rules on May 15 to address Governor Reynold’s Executive Order 10, signed in January, which imposed a moratorium on formal rulemaking until agencies had reviewed existing rules and conducted a cost-benefit analysis. DNR has not yet completed the cost-benefit analysis, but released the draft rules for stakeholder comments. The comment submission includes analysis of economic costs of pollution, conservatively estimating costs of CAFO and AFO pollution between $240 and $400 million dollars annually

"Clean water is foundational for everything people do," said Schmidt. "Iowans rely on DNR to protect our shared resources, which is why DNR needs to adopt rules that will lead to real pollution reductions. We all pay if DNR allows continued pollution of our water."  

In the draft rules, DNR proposes changes to protections for karst terrain, in which porous bedrock allows water and pollutants to reach groundwater. DNR had promised to revise the rules responding to an IEC-ELPC petition filed in August 2021 for rulemaking to protect karst and drinking water. In denying the petition, the Environmental Protection Commission after DNR stated the agency would address the issue through a larger rulemaking. 

When DNR did not promptly start the rulemaking process, IEC and ELPC filed a second petition May 2022 to stop allowing AFO siting in floodplains, which is still pending. The proposed rules would adopt a floodplain map, as the petition requested and as the legislature directed DNR to do in 2002.  

Read the joint comments on IEC's website. The public can submit comments to the DNR through 4:30 p.m. on Friday, June 16.

  1. cafos
  2. clean water
  3. dnr
  4. drinking water
  5. flooding
  6. karst
  7. water quality