Pure Farms, Pure Waters

New York

Challenging the New York Department of Environmental Conservation’s toothless permits for industrial animal facilities.

On April 12, 2017, Waterkeeper Alliance, Riverkeeper, Cortland – Onondaga Federation of Kettle Lake Associations, Sierra Club, and Theodore Gordon Flyfishers, Inc., represented by Earthjustice, served the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) with a lawsuit challenging a permit with lax terms that could result in pathogens and animal waste pollutants being discharged into New York waterways. The lawsuit is challenging DEC’s permit for “Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations” (CAFOs) based on the agency’s failure to include terms adequate to prevent pollution and require the permit to be reviewed by DEC and members of the public, whose waters and health can be adversely impacted by uncontrolled discharges of animal waste.

New York is the country’s fourth-largest milk-producing state with more than 600,000 dairy cows, each of which produces over 100 pounds of waste per day.  DEC’s permit applies to roughly 250 CAFOs in New York State the confine 200 or more animals. The average facility covered by the permit produces about as much waste as a town of 82,000 people. But, unlike towns and cities, which have sewage treatment plants that are strictly regulated and tested to create a non-polluting discharge, the DEC permit does not ensure CAFO waste storage and disposal is adequately treated and allows the waste to be disposed of on lands in close proximity to public drinking water supplies.  This has serious implications for human health and water quality. Over the last several years, industrial-scale dairy CAFOs have been responsible for numerous water contamination incidents – at least 40 instances of water contamination by CAFOs were documented in 2015 alone.  Despite this serious and continuing problem, the DEC permit does not contain enforceable requirements for waste management plans, and it authorizes CAFOs to develop and implement waste management plans that are not reviewed by DEC or disclosed to the public.  

*Photo: US Department of Agriculture