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Our view: Bring transparency to all New York CAFOs


It seemed like an informed and reasonable change when the state Department of Environmental Conservation, under court order, recently issued revised proposed rules for the Clean Water Act Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation permit.

At the heart of the changes were new requirements for independent oversight of a farm’s nutrient management plan and more transparency to the public about how animal waste is handled.

These proposed changes came out this summer, a time when harmful algal blooms, which thrive when certain nutrients are in abundance in water, have become a huge threat to public water supplies throughout the state.

Sounds like smart environmental rule-making, right? To a degree it is. But there’s one big problem: Only a small fraction of the state’s CAFOs are covered by this type of permit. And none of them operate in the highly susceptible Owasco Lake Watershed.

It turns out most large animal farms in New York are now operating under the state’s general CAFO permit, which has some strong clean water safeguards, but lacks the independent oversight and transparency of the federal Clean Water Act permit.

Earlier this month the Owasco Lake Watershed Management Council wrote the DEC calling on the same revisions for the general CAFO permit. Next week, the Auburn City Council will vote on a resolution in support of that measure.

A key part of that resolution comes at the end, where it calls on the state representatives from the area that relies on Owasco Lake for clean tap water to push for this important change.

We agree with this effort. It makes sense to have these common-sense CAFO requirements part of the general permit, and it shouldn’t be a major burden on farms to follow them or for the DEC to enforce.

We strongly urge city council to approve the resolution next week, and we also urge residents to advocate for their own clean water by reaching out to state Sens. John DeFrancisco, Pam Helming and James Seward, and Assemblymen Gary Finch and Robert Oaks and ask for their vocal advocacy.