Allen Farms Owasco Lake

Dairy cows at Allen Farms in Scipio Center.

Earlier this year, a state Supreme Court judge ruled that the Department of Environmental Conservation’s clean water permits for livestock farms in New York did not meet federal regulations and must be reworked. 

Now, the public will have the opportunity to give input on the department's first draft of new permits.

In April 2017, several New York environmental groups filed a complaint against the DEC in state Supreme Court in Albany County arguing the updated Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFO, permits released by the state agency that same year violated the federal Clean Water Act. CAFO permits regulate medium and large animal farms that discharge into protected watersheds, mostly dairy farms. The permit requirements are reviewed every five years by the state.   

According to the complaint, while farms were required to develop a nutrient-management plan to receive a CAFO permit, those plans were allowed to be developed and then reviewed for compliance by private contractors, not DEC experts. The plans also were not easily accessible to the public. All of those things violated federal laws, the groups argued, and by omitting those mandates, failed "to ensure that the manure is kept out of surface waters."  

A year later, in April 2018, state Supreme Court Justice David Weinstein handed down a ruling in favor of the complainants and found the DEC's new regulations did in fact violate the Clean Water Act. In his decision, Weinstein said the use of private contractors to both develop and review nutrient management plans was a conflict of interest. He also agreed that the process lacks public participation and disclosure. 

During a phone interview with The Citizen Friday, Owasco Lake Management Council Chair Ed Wagner said he is in support of the judge's decision. 

"I think it was a wise decision and it was appropriate," Wagner said. 

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Now, the DEC is in the process of revising the permits to be federally compliant. The agency this month released a first draft, as well as a fact sheet. The public can review those documents and submit any comments on them to the DEC in writing by Oct. 11. The public comment period opened on Sept. 7. 

Wagner said he feels it is important for people to be active and get involved by giving their comments to the department. 

"If you want to make change, you've got to get involved," Wagner said. "It's important to voice your concerns." 

The city of Auburn intends to review the new regulations and send comments to the DEC, members of the city council decided at their weekly meeting Thursday. The Owasco Lake Management Council will meet on Tuesday and will discuss the matter during its meeting and decide whether or not to offer comments to the state, Wagner said. 

According to a schedule released by the DEC, the final permits will be issued by Feb. 7, 2019, and go into effect on July 8, 2019. They will expire in July 2022. Farms that were covered by the previous CAFO permits must submit a notice of intent and nutrient management plan to the DEC at least 60 days before July 8 to continue to be covered under the new permits.

Comments about the permits should be mailed to Douglas Ashline, NYSDEC Division of Water at 325 Broadway, 4th floor, Albany, New York, 12233. Ashline can be reached for questions at (518) 402-8247 or cafoinfo@dec.ny.gov. The draft and fact sheet can be found on the DEC's website at dec.ny.gov/enb/20180912_not0.

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Staff writer Natalie Brophy can be reached at (315)282-2239 or natalie.brophy@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter @brophy_natalie