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Winter 2008 Issue of the Finger Lake Sierran

The Continued "Wasting" of Rural New York

by Erin Riddle, Chair of the Atlantic Chapter Farm and Food Committee

In 2005 the Citizens Environmental Coalition and The Sierra Club published The Wasting Rural of New York. At that time there were 600 "permitted factory farms" (a/k/a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations or CAFOs) in NYS, the great majority dairy farms. These are broken down into two categories: a) large - having 700+ animal units and b) medium - having 200 to 699 animal units. An animal unit is defined as an animal or animals equal to a 1,000 lb. mature dairy cow.

A CAFO is defined as an area where animals are confined for at least 45 days or more a year and the area does not provide crops etc. during the growing season (this excludes pastures). Under NYS Environmental Law and the Clean Water Act an operator of an existing or planned CAFO must have a permit. To obtain such a permit the operator must submit an application and Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan (CNMP) with the NYS DEC.

The CNMP must be prepared by a "certified planner" who has met certain training and experience requirements. In some cases parts of his plan must include designs prepared by a Licensed Professional Engineer (e.g. for large lagoon dams etc.). Either the planner or the operator must provide proof of liability insurance to pay for any damages in event the plan fails. Space does not exist to list all the requirements required but the primary -^•equirements can be^unimaiized briefly as: a) must insure good~ agriculture practices are followed and pollution runoff prevented, and b) provide containment and proper disposal of all agricultural waste. The other requirements deal with identification of the operator, the responsible person for compliance, listing of all facilities liable to generate waste/runoff and assurance their design, construction and operation will conform to certain standards. Prior to any change in design, operation, enlargement or maintenance of any of these facilities must be filed in writing with the DEC prior to commencement. The DEC can order modifications as it sees fit. Other requirements state: that facilities cannot be built in wetlands, the operator shall have equipment readily available to contain spills. Records of all waste generated and its ultimate disposal shall be kept as well as rainfall records for the area, (to preclude an "act of God" excuse by operator for a system(s) failure). These records must be available to DEC inspectors at all times.

This is a very brief summation of dairy farm CAFOs in NYS. Will CAFOs just disappear and/or can they be stopped? Political reality says "no". But they can be better controlled. As the public gets more concerned it will demand better enforcement of the rules and regulations. Plus newer, better technologies may emerge for agricultural waste management and disposal. I believe a combination of the two will be needed - better regulation and incentives for the operators to adopt newer technologies and both will cost (tax) money. As with many environmental problems, the political will must be created to accomplish these goals.