BALTIMORE, Maryland, October 15, 2009 (ENS) – The Maryland Department of Environment will issue a general discharge permit, effective December 1, 2009, for Maryland Animal Feeding Operations (MAFOs) and Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). The permit and regulations require measures to control nutrient discharges from Maryland’s largest agricultural animal operations and are intended to better protect local waterways and the Chesapeake Bay.

The permit implements regulations that were adopted in January for animal feeding operations, but a legal challenge by environmental organizations has delayed the permit.

The lawsuit was brought in January against Maryland Department of Environment by the Assateague Coastkeeper, Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper, Charles and Betty Schelts, and the Waterkeeper Alliance. One of the arguments against the agency’s proposed MAFO permit is that it allows operations to discharge without obtaining an NPDES permit.

The ruling, issued in July by Administrative Law Judge Bernard McClellan, was in favor of the state agency.

The Maryland Department of the Environment recently issued a final decision affirming Judge McClellan’s decision to uphold the permit. While that decision has been appealed, the appeal does not stay the implementation of the permit. The permit is needed to allow farmers to comply with regulations for new and existing animal operations.

New U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations governing CAFOs, along with the legal challenges to the Maryland permit developed to implement the new federal requirements, have created concern among farmers seeking to obtain permits for new poultry operations.

MDE, the Maryland Department of Agriculture, soil conservation districts, and USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service offer technical and financial assistance to farmers as they work to comply with permit requirements and further reduce nutrient impacts on the Bay and its tributaries.

Last year, the U.S. EPA revised its definition of what constitutes a surface water discharge as it pertains to animal feeding operations, resulting in a higher number of large Maryland operations being defined as CAFOs. These are covered under a federal permit issued under state authority.

Nearly 500 Maryland farmers filed Notices of Intent to comply with CAFO permit requirements by a February 27, 2009, deadline. Once the permit is effective, MDE will be able to move forward in processing these Notices of Intent and also move forward with registering new and existing operations as MAFOs.

MDE Secretary Shari Wilson said, “To protect the environment and public health, Maryland is reducing nutrient pollution from all sources – from wastewater treatment plants to septic systems and urban and suburban runoff – and this includes agriculture. This permit will help Maryland farmers further protect and restore the Chesapeake Bay by ensuring that all farmers are operating under clear and consistent guidelines.”

“Maryland farmers have a long, outstanding record of environmental conservation,” said Maryland Agriculture Secretary Buddy Hance. “Through their stewardship of our land and water, Maryland farmers have accomplished a lot, but we all need to do more if we want to reach our Bay restoration goals. The environmental leadership of Maryland farmers is a model for other states to follow.”

The MAFO permit requires a Soil Conservation and Water Quality Plan and a Nutrient Management Plan or a Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan. Implementation of these technical-based plans help farmers manage fertilizers, animal waste, and other nutrient sources more efficiently to meet crop needs while preventing groundwater or surface water impacts.

The permit also authorizes on-farm inspections and enforcement of any water quality problems by MDE.

Maryland Department of the Environment guidelines allow a feeding operation to determine whether it is a CAFO or MAFO that must be covered under the general permit. That determination is based on the size of the operations and whether it proposes to or has the potential to discharge to surface waters.

Detailed information will be sent directly to farmers about how to comply with the permit and its regulations on November 1, 2009. This information will allow for phased in adoption of the required comprehensive nutrient management plans in acknowledgement of concerns about the availability of Natural Resources Conservation Service staff to prepare the plans.

The permit and regulations are part of a broad campaign to protect and restore the state’s waterways, including the Chesapeake Bay.

The effort to reduce nutrient pollution also includes upgrading wastewater treatment plants and septic systems, better managing urban and suburban stormwater runoff, controlling emissions from power plants, planting cover crops, and expanding forested buffers and wetlands.

Maryland has committed to new, two-year milestones that more than double the state’s nitrogen reduction efforts and position the state to work with the U.S. EPA on water restoration goals established as part of President Barack Obama’s Chesapeake Bay Executive Order issued May 12. The Order calls for water quality restoration, conservation practices that efficiently reduce nutrient and sediment loads to the bay and resource management to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009. All rights reserved.