Precedent-setting Permits Must Set High Bar for Virginia Poultry Houses, CBF Says

(ONLEY, VA)—The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) will call for strong Clean Water Act permits for three Virginia poultry houses that discharge pollution into local waterways at a public hearing in Onley on Jan. 30. These facilities on the Eastern Shore are the first in Virginia required to obtain discharge permits due to the result of inspections by regulators.

Poultry production throughout Virginia is increasing, especially on the Eastern Shore. Large poultry operations produce significant amounts of chicken manure, dander, and other animal wastes. If not properly handled, waste can pollute local streams and the Chesapeake Bay. Fortunately, well-managed poultry operations do follow practices that minimize risks to water quality. Careful regulation of poultry production is also key to preventing risks to local water quality and Chesapeake Bay restoration.

CBF requested that the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) hold next week's public hearing to ensure that residents have the opportunity to talk with regulators about how the permits will address water quality concerns. The hearing will take place at 6:30 p.m. at Nandua High School. 

"These Clean Water Act permits—the first for Virginia poultry operations—are precedent-setting. To protect our streams and the Bay as the industry grows, it is essential that DEQ set the regulatory bar at a high level," said CBF Senior Attorney and Assistant Virginia Director Peggy Sanner. "For example, meaningful water quality monitoring should be a non-negotiable part of each of these permits."

Regular monitoring of surface and ground water will be essential to protecting water quality, CBF said in comments filed recently with DEQ. Monitoring would show if pollution is leaving these facilities, which could be addressed by requiring pollution reductions through conservation practices. 

Virginia poultry operations produced about 28.3 million more birds in 2016 than in 2010—a 12 percent increase—according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Over the same time the weight of birds produced increased 27 percent, meaning the average bird is now larger and produces more manure. Much of this growth is taking place on the Eastern Shore and the Shenandoah Valley.

In comments submitted to DEQ, CBF thanked the agency for its work on the three permits, but urged additional safeguards in several areas. The draft permits currently require only visual inspections once every three months. CBF urges DEQ to strengthen this monitoring protocol to give a more complete picture with, for example, regular chemical testing for pollutants like nitrogen, phosphorus, and bacteria.

CBF also recommended that DEQ require periodic ground water monitoring. This is especially important given that many Shore residents get their drinking water from wells.

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