Manure Concerns

Think horse owners don't have to be concerned with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)? Think again!

The first judicial civil action that the EPA took against a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) was against a Thoroughbred racetrack in Oregon in 2000. This action occurred after repeated, continuous discharges of manures and other wastes to a river in violation of the 1972 Federal Clean Water Act, which allows a maximum penalty of $27,500 a day until the discharger complies with the law. The objective of the Clean Water Act is to restore "fishable and swimmable" quality to lakes, streams, and estuaries. To achieve this, a permit system was established to regulate pollutants at point discharges to the "waters of the United States." The law defined animal feedlots as point sources if they had a large concentration of animals or had the potential to pollute. States were allowed by the Clean Water Act to have stricter standards than the law commanded.

In February 2003, new concentrated animal feeding operation rules were published by the EPA as a result of significant changes in animal production and housing during the last 20 years. The major causes of water pollution from food production are confinement facilities for swine, dairy, beef, and poultry. However, facilities for boarding, training, breeding, and racing of horses can have similar impact on water quality.

Because of intensive production methods, animals are concentrated in high numbers, resulting in manure and animal waste production in smaller areas. The runoff of nutrients from manure in unroofed confined feeding areas, storage of wastes outside roofed facilities, and runoff from fields on which these wastes are spread contributes to pollution of waterways.

To understand if the new regulations apply to an existing or proposed horse facility, the terms AFO and CAFO need to be defined. An AFO is an animal feeding operation and is defined as a place where animals are confined, fed, and/or maintained for 45 days or more for any 12-month period in an area that manure is generated and/or concentrated and there is no grass or other vegetation in the confinement area during the normal growing season. These concentrated sites can be for "temporary confinement." An AFO does not include those animals that are exercising, grazing, or feeding on the forage in pastures, fields, or rangeland in which they may be restricted. The 45 days do not have to be consecutive, and a day can be any portion of a day to count as a day. The year does not have to be a calendar year but any consecutive 365 days.

A CAFO has been redefined in the new regulations and is identified by a specific number of animals in an AFO and by site conditions. A horse AFO is a large CAFO if there are more than 500 or more horses. A horse AFO is a medium CAFO if a constructed ditch or a pipe carries manure or wastewater from a confinement area to the waters of the United States or the horses are in contact with running surface water through a confinement area, and there are 150 or more horses. An AFO can be designated as a CAFO no matter what the number of horses if the state regulatory agency has determined that the AFO is contributing significant pollutants to surface water. Situations where this may apply include a site that is too near surface water, a steep sloping site, or surface water is designated as a drinking water supply or an outstanding water resource.

If an AFO is considered a CAFO, the operator/owner is required to apply for a permit from the state water regulatory authority. The permit will require the operator/owner to develop a waste management plan that includes proper waste storage, diverting clean water from concentrated wastes, testing the nutrient content of the waste, and spreading the waste on fields at nutrient levels that soil testing results recommend. Records of waste disposal must be kept for five years. If animal wastes are transferred to another person or entity, records of date, recipient, amount, and nutrient content must be maintained.

If you have questions about the classification of an equine facility as a CAFO, contact the water regulatory agency in your state.

Dr. Joseph Taraba, (859) 257-3000,
Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering, University of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky.