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Animal Feeding Operation’s and the Clean Water Act Permit System in Maryland

Updated: Jul 17

By Ashley Ellixson

Lake in front of a white barn (Photo by Edwin Remsberg).

When it comes to housing a large amount of livestock, or poultry and the like, in a confined area, it is no big surprise that there will be a dilemma with getting rid of manure and other waste produced by the animals. In order to clean our waterways and going forward prevent pollution to our waterways created by animal waste, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) created what we now know as the Clean Water Act (CWA) in 1972. Up until 1976, animal feeding operations were not held liable under the standards created by the EPA. Since then, EPA has granted Maryland, more specifically the Department of the Environment, the power to carry out industry standards set under the CWA by distributing and regulating permits.

What is an Animal Feeding Operation (AFO) and How Does Being an AFO Affect Me?

An AFO is a feedlot or facility where non-aquatic animals are confined for at least 45 days during a 12-month period. The 45 days of confinement are not required to be consecutive and the 12-month period can be any consecutive 12 months. In addition, crops, forage growth, or vegetation cannot be grown in the area or facility where the animals are confined.

You can use the AFO size chart to determine whether you are small, medium, or large AFO.

A CAFO can be either defined by the regulation as such or designated by the Department of the Environment in the state of Maryland. By definition, a CAFO is a medium or large AFO that discharges or proposes to discharge pollutants, including but not limited to manure, litter or wastewater.

If you are either by definition, or designated, a CAFO you are required to apply for a General Discharge Permit for Animal Feeding Operations. In addition, CAFOs must submit a Notice of Intent (NOI) and a Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan (CNMP) that is developed in accordance with the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) technical standards. If the Department determines that the plans satisfy the requirements of the general permit, it will then publish public notice of preliminary approval. The notice will allow for a 30-day public comment period.


Cows in front of a farm (Photo by Edwin Remsberg).

The Department will notify the CAFO of the terms and conditions of the plans that are approved by the department and enforceable under the general permit after the 30 day public comment period has ended and no changes are required to the plans. The Department will also schedule a public hearing on the preliminary approval when a written request is made within 20 days of the publication of the NOI.

The permit fee and annual fee for coverage under the AFO General Discharge Permit have been waived until further notice.

What If I Am a Large Confined Animal Feeding Operation(CAFO) in Maryland But I Do Not Discharge Pollutants?

An AFO that is defined as a large CAFO under the federal regulations that does not discharge or propose to discharge pollutants is subject to the requirements for a Maryland Animal Feeding Operation (MAFO) and Maryland regulations. You are usually not a MAFO unless the Department of the Environment designates you as one under its discretion because it sees a threat of pollution to Maryland waterways.

A MAFO is required by the Department of the Environment to apply for a general permit. You are then required to file a Notice of Intent (NOI), a Nutrient Management Plan (NMP) that is developed in accordance with the Maryland Department of Agriculture technical standards and your soil conservation and water quality plan showing how you plan to protect Maryland’s water quality to the Department. If the Department determines that the plans satisfy the requirements of the general permit, it will then publish public notice of preliminary approval. The notice will allow for a 30-day public comment period even though there is no requirement for a public hearing for MAFOs.


Baby birds in a cage (Photo by Edwin Remsberg).

A MAFO that has submitted an acceptable NOI and plans may operate under the terms of the general permit pending the outcome of the public participation process, unless the Department determines that there is a threat to public health, water quality or aquatic resources.

Finally, the Department will notify the MAFO of the terms and conditions of the plans that are approved by the department and enforceable under the general permit after the 30 day public comment period has ended and no changes are required to the plans. MAFOs are not required to have a public hearing but the Department can schedule one on its own accord without a written request.

The permit fee and annual fee for coverage under the AFO General Discharge Permit have been waived until further notice.

#waterlaw #CAFO #MAFO #cleanwateract #permit

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