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CAFOs, water permits and NR 243

Compliance with Wisconsin’s agricultural standards and prohibitions is required of all cropland and livestock operations in the state, regardless of size. Reducing or preventing manure or process wastewater pollution from agricultural operations protects our water resources. In addition to the standards and prohibitions in ch. NR 151, Wis. Adm. Code [Exit DNR], state and federal law requires that large animal feeding operations have water quality protection permits.

CAFO defined

A Wisconsin animal feeding operation with 1,000 animal units or more is a large Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO). The DNR may designate a smaller-scale animal feeding operation (fewer than 1,000 animal units) as a CAFO if it has pollutant discharges to navigable waters or contaminates a well.

Water quality permits for CAFOs

The U.S. EPA delegates implementation of the Clean Water Act and Federal NPDES CAFO permit program to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Wisconsin implements the water quality protection permit program by requiring that CAFOs have a DNR approved Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (WPDES) permit in place when they to operate. CAFO WPDES permits ensure farms use proper planning, nutrient management, and structure/system construction to protect Wisconsin waters. These permits apply only to water quality protection. They do not give the DNR authority to address air, odor, traffic, lighting, land use nor any of the social concerns people may have about large farms.

WPDES permit requirements under NR 243

Note: This is not a complete list of the requirements in ch. NR 243, Wis. Adm. Code [Exit DNR].

  • Operators can determine if they are a CAFO by completing the Animal Units Calculation Worksheet (Form 3400-025A) [PDF].
  • If an operation is or plans to become a CAFO, it must have a WPDES permit. Twelve months before an operation becomes a CAFO, it must begin the WPDES permit application process.
  • There is a “zero” discharge standard for runoff to navigable waters from CAFO animal production areas (areas where animals are housed or otherwise confined, manure is stored and feed is stored).
  • DNR reviews and approves plans and specifications for reviewable facilities (e.g. manure and process wastewater storage and handling systems).
  • CAFOs must be prepared for manure and non-manure spills by developing a response plan and must properly dispose of animal carcasses.
  • All farms, regardless of size, should develop and implement a plan for manure and process wastewater application on cropped fields. CAFOs, as part of the permit process, must develop and implement a nutrient management plan.
  • Manure spread on land must be set back from drinking water wells, sinkholes and fractured bedrock. Additional restrictions apply to manure and process wastewater spread on shallow soils over fractured bedrock.
  • Operators may not spread liquid manure on frozen or snow–covered ground unless it’s injected or immediately incorporated into soil or there is an emergency outside the operation’s control.
  • Operators may not spread solid manure on frozen or snow covered ground during February and March unless immediately incorporated. Farmers can stack solid manure in fields or store it in a designed structure during February and March. In–field (headland) manure stacking criteria NRCS Standard 313 – Table 9 [PDF]
  • Six months of liquid manure storage is required with some exceptions.
  • There are also inspection, monitoring and reporting requirements which are included in the CAFO Compliance Calendar.

For additional information, see the CAFO WPDES permit FAQ.