Preventing Water Pollution From Farms

​​Q: What are a farm’s obligations to prevent water pollution?
A: Federal and state laws require a farm to prevent pollutants from escaping into streams, lakes and other bodies of water unless the farm has a permit.

Q: Do these water pollution laws apply only to farms raising animals?
A: All types of farms are subject to the water pollution laws, whether they raise animals or produce crops or other products. 

Q: Is it illegal to discharge pollutants into a man-made ditch?
A: It is illegal to pollute any ditches, unless the dtches are not connected to streams, wetlands or other bodies of water. 

Q: Are only large farms required to prevent water pollution?
A: Large livestock and poultry farms are required to obtain environmental permits imposing strict pollution-prevention procedures. Ordinarily, smaller animal farms and farms without animals need not obtain these permits, but all farms are prohibited from polluting the water. A smaller farm that has discharged pollutants may be required to obtain the same type of permit as a large animal farm.

Q: What pollutants can be produced by a livestock or poultry farm?
A: Animal manure can escape from overflowing storage ponds, manure spilled around the barns or manure running off fields. The government also forbids runoff into streams, ditches or tiles of other types of pollutants, including: storm water flowing from silage, feed piles, compost piles, calf hutches, cow paths and driveways; runoff from washing manure-spreading equipment; and water used to cool milk.

Q: If I raise livestock and poultry, how can I prevent water pollution?
A: Where the weather allows, empty manure storage ponds before winter to avoid overflowing ponds during a wet winter or spring.  Avoid manure spills on the ground around the barns and manure storage facilities that can drain into waterways. Build storm water ponds to collect contaminated runoff, or grade your land to prevent sloping toward nearby waterways. Keep manure stockpiles away from waterways, and do not allow cattle and other animals to stand in streams. 

Q: How can I keep manure spread on my fields from escaping into waterways?
A: Manure should not be spread during or just before rainfall, on steep hills, on saturated soil or in areas too close to ditches and streams. Also, avoid applying on frozen or snow-covered ground if possible. If you can't avoid applying manure in undesirable weather conditions, take extra precautions such as spreading on level fields and staying farther away from streams. Do not over-apply manure, and follow a comprehensive nutrient management plan that includes manure application procedures.

Q: If I don’t raise livestock or poultry, what pollutants must I worry about?
A: With or without animals, a farm may produce pollutants that can be discharged into a water body. These pollutants may include spilled grain or feed, contaminant runoff from equipment repair or washing areas, filter backwash from water purification, discharges from failing home septic systems, spilled chemicals from storage containers, oil and fuel spilled from tanks, hoses and equipment, and even clean, discarded well water.

Q: What precautions can I take to prevent pollution from contaminants other than manure?
A: To minimize the likelihood of oil and fuel spills, follow spill-prevention procedures, such as building dikes around storage tanks. Remove spilled grain, feed and other products from areas in which runoff is likely. Periodically inspect and maintain chemical containers and tanks to detect and repair spills and leaks. Recycle clean, unused well water, or (since it is harmless) you can get a permit authorizing its discharge. Repair or replace malfunctioning septic tanks. Take care not to repair or clean equipment in areas near or sloping toward water bodies.


This "Law You Can Use" consumer legal information column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association (OSBA). It was prepared by attorney Jack Van Kley, a member of the Columbus firm of Van Kley & Walker, LLC.

Articles appearing in this column are intended to provide broad, general information about the law. This article is not intended to be legal advice. Before applying this information to a specific legal problem, readers are urged to seek advice from a licensed attorney.



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