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April 5, 2011

MADISON - As part of its ongoing effort to streamline permitting processes and free up more staff time for inspections and compliance checks, the state has issued a standardized water quality protection permit now available to large-scale dairy operations.

The "general permit" would be available to operations with up to 4,000 milking cows and would require them to meet the same protections that are now contained in the individually written permits such operations have. Other large-scale operations that house other animals such as sheep, chickens and turkeys would continue to require an individual permit, according to Russ Rasmussen, who leads the Department of Natural Resources Bureau of Watershed Management.

Issuance of the permit, known as a Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (WPDES) permit, follows a lengthy public notice and comment period, informational hearings held throughout the state in spring 2010, and detailed review and response to the comments that were received on the proposal.

"The General Permit for Large Dairy operations is an important step in making sure livestock producers get their permits in a timely fashion while maintaining the same requirements and environmental protections offered in our individual permits," Rasmussen says. "Our staff will gain the time they need to complete other critical activities such as inspecting large-scale operations already covered under a permit and focus on those aspects of the permit process that actually make a difference to the environment."

Under state and federal law, large farms must get water quality protection permits when they reach 1,000 animal units (roughly 700 milking cows) because of the volume of their manure and the increased potential risk it poses to Wisconsin waters if a spill or runoff occurs.

Use of the Large Dairy Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) General Permit is limited to dairy operations with 1,000 to 5,720 animal units, roughly 700 to 4,000 milking cows, and would require these operations to meet the same water quality standards used in individual permits.

Application materials for operations covered under a general permit and the level of DNR review they receive will essentially be the same for individual and general permits, Rasmussen says. The time savings will result from less paperwork spent in drafting permits and conveying coverage under the general permit rather than writing an individual permit from scratch for each applicant.

DNR retains the ability to write individual permits when staff determines it's necessary to protect public health and lakes, rivers, wetlands and groundwater. Individual permits will also continue to be issued for other non-dairy large-scale livestock operations (e.g., swine, beef, poultry) and for dairy operations that will have more than 5,720 animal units.

Members of the public will still have an opportunity to comment on a DNR decision to cover an operation under the general permit, as well as the operation's plan for spreading manure and process wastewater on cropped fields, known as a nutrient management plan. This public comment process must be completed before the DNR can cover a given operation under the permit.

A copy of the finalized general permit and other materials related to the permit are available on the Wisconsin's Largest Farms and Manure Management page of the DNR website (click on the "General Permits" tab).

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Tom Bauman, (608) 266-9993

Last Revised: Tuesday, April 05, 2011

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