EPA explains CAFO fly-overs in Iowa

Shawn Shouse, ISU Extension & Outreach Ag Engineering Field Specialist
September 13, 2012
By Shawn Shouse, ISU Extension & Outreach Ag Engineering Field Specialist

September 11, 2012 – At an August 30 meeting in Arcadia, IA, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials explained their CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) inspection process and their use of aerial fly-over methods to observe runoff issues from animal feeding operations in Iowa.

Speaking to about 100 livestock farmers and several agency staff, Steve Pollard, EPA Region 7 CAFO compliance and enforcement coordinator, said he takes camera photographs from a small chartered airplane as the pilot flies him over areas with high concentration of large and medium sized animal feeding operations. Specifically, Pollard is looking for signs of manure and other contaminated runoff water leaving livestock operations or manure stockpiles and heading for streams and lakes. He takes those photographs with location coordinates back to his office where he analyzes the photos and decides which sites need follow-up inspections on the ground.

In response to questions about fly-over timing and enforcement, Pollard said the flights are scheduled for wetter times of year, typically spring and fall, when runoff issues are more likely to be apparent, but are not specifically scheduled immediately after large rainfall events. He stressed that no enforcement actions are taken based on aerial photographs without first conducting a thorough ground inspection. Several photographs were shown, illustrating the kind of runoff issues that Pollard sees from the air. He said runoff from pens and manure stockpiles reaching road ditches, which then lead to streams are the most common compliance issue noted.

Trevor Urban, EPA Region 7 senior CAFO inspector, explained the procedures used in ground inspections. He stated that inspectors always call a day in advance of the inspection to make sure the operation manager is available for the visit or can have another representative available to show inspectors around. A team of two inspectors covers a checklist of points at each inspection. Urban said that farmers sometimes think inspectors are being picky over small details, but inspectors want to cover all points of potential problems so that there is never a question of why an issue wasn’t mentioned while they were there. He said all identified issues are discussed in a summary interview with the operation manager, and a written report is sent later.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Pollard and Urban answered many questions from individual producers. Pollard said that Iowa farmers seemed well aware of the environmental issues discussed. He noted that aerial observations help the agency direct inspections only to operations that appear to need improvement, and to expect them to continue.

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