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AGRICULTURE

DEC issues new permits for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations

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Cows are fed at Sunnyside Farms in Scipio Center.

AUBURN — The state Department of Environmental Conservation has announced the renewal of its Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation permits, ending an approximately year-long public comment and review process but also disappointing some water quality advocates in Cayuga County.

Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, commonly referred to as CAFOs, are farms that hold livestock in a confined area for 45 days or more in a place that does not grow vegetation, according to the DEC. In Cayuga County, CAFOs are predominantly dairy farms with 300 or more cows.

The latest permit renewal, announced Jan. 25, was a topic of discussion at Thursday's Cayuga County Water Quality Management Agency meeting. Intended to help reduce pollution to water bodies, the permits outline a five-year set of requirements for CAFO farms to follow. The permits will be in effect July 24.

"DEC has been working with stakeholders for more than two decades to balance environmental, agricultural, and civic interests in order to protect the environment while developing workable protections for New York's farmers," said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos, in a news release. "The permits are an important measure to safeguard public health and the environment. I thank everyone involved for their thoughtful input throughout this process."

The WQMA and several other local organizations participated in the DEC's public comment period, submitting requests and suggestions in its draft before Feb. 7 last year. Bob Brower, president of the Owasco Watershed Lake Association, said there was "great disappointment" over the new conditions.

One requirement the association had advocated for was to have farmers conduct water sampling to have some measurements of how their nutrient management plans are working.

"This would provide a mechanism for determining the success or failure of the nutrient balance and application schedules for fertilizer and manure," OWLA's comment read in the DEC's collected list of feedback.

The DEC responded, saying it reviews a farm's compliance with nutrient management plans during inspections and site visits, and noncompliance should be reported. But it did not add any additional requirements for water sampling. 

"Clearly our comments were considered and read, but we're unhappy with the outcome," Brower said.

Many farmers and agricultural consultants provided comments on the permits as well.

"New York Farm Bureau was a major collaborator in a workgroup with our agricultural and environmental partners from the very beginning of the new CAFO permit process," said David Fisher, president of the New York Farm Bureau, in a news release. 

The WQMA is still reviewing the CAFO permits and agreed that since the permits are passed, there was no point in continuing discussion about what should or should not have been included. Instead the agency plans to invite the DEC to its March meeting to discuss what the new requirements are.

"This organization is responsible for keeping an eye on water quality and advancing water quality," said Steve Lynch, director of planning and economic development for the county. "Knowing what these regulations are is important."

For more information on the latest CAFO permits visit dec.ny.gov/permits/6285.html.

In other news:

• Eileen O'Connor, director of environmental health, reported that the DEC has made clarifications to how residents can file complaints. She said the DEC would like complaints to go to the Syracuse Region 7 Office's Department of Water at (315) 426-7500. During off-hours or on weekends, the DEC also has a hotline people can call at (877) 457-5680. 

O'Connor said names of those who file the complaints are kept confidential unless there is a formal legal process down the line. She said usually people are hesitant to call in something they may see, because they fear the suspected violator will learn who called the complaint in. 

"That can have a chilling effect on people afraid to make the call," she said.

Staff writer Gwendolyn Craig can be reached at (315) 282-2237 or gwendolyn.craig@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter @gwendolynnn1.

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