DEQ Commits to Monitor Poultry Operations for Pollution

(RICHMOND, VA)—The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has committed to undertake water quality monitoring of key poultry operations on the Eastern Shore after taking into account concerns from the community, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), and other stakeholders. Virginia recently issued its first poultry pollution discharge permits for three large operations on the Shore. DEQ's new plan to monitor water quality at these specific poultry operations will help guarantee that their pollution controls are working properly.

"There are still a lot of unanswered questions about the risks to waterways from poultry operations," said Jay Ford, an Accomack County resident who recently joined CBF as its Virginia Voices Outreach Coordinator after many years of leadership in conservation-related work. "Fortunately, DEQ is taking a very positive step forward. This monitoring program will verify that these new poultry permits effectively control pollution. We are grateful to DEQ Director David Paylor, Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources Matthew Strickler and others in the Administration of Governor Ralph Northam for this monitoring commitment." 

Poultry production is increasing throughout Virginia. Large poultry operations produce significant amounts of chicken litter, dander, ammonia, and other waste. Improperly handled waste can pollute local creeks and the Chesapeake Bay. Well-managed poultry operations follow practices that minimize this threat.

The three precedent-setting discharge permits for operations on the Eastern Shore are the first of their kind in Virginia.  Inspections of these operations in 2010 indicated pollution discharges into local waters. Because of these inspections the farms were required to obtain discharge permits under the Virginia Pollutant Discharge Elimination System for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations. These three operations have since cooperated closely with DEQ during the permitting process.

When these permits were approved in April, they required visual monitoring, but no monitoring for pollutants potentially in groundwater or runoff flowing from the production area of the poultry operations. Subsequently, Mr. Ford, CBF, and other members of the community raised concerns that DEQ would not be able to demonstrate whether these permits will keep pollution from entering waterways. 

"Thankfully, DEQ took into account feedback from committed individuals and CBF, and developed a simple water quality monitoring plan for the agency to carry out, going beyond the required visual monitoring, said CBF Virginia Executive Director Rebecca Tomazin. "Monitoring is a modest but important measure of how poultry operations may affect the health of our creeks, rivers, and the Bay." 

DEQ's study will begin this August and take water quality samples upstream and downstream of four sites, including the three permitted operations. It will include at least six separate samples over the course of a year, including at least four within a day of rainfall and two during dry weather. The samples will be tested for pollution including nitrogen, ammonia, phosphorus, bacteria, and sediment. Results will be made public after the study.

These are the first major water quality permits DEQ has issued since Governor Ralph Northam's recent Executive Order 6, which speaks directly to the importance of strengthening DEQ's permitting, monitoring, and enforcement activities. 

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