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Pacific Southwest, Region 9

Serving: Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Pacific Islands, Tribal Nations

What to Expect When You're Inspected: A Guide for California Dairy Operators

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conducts inspections to ensure that federal environmental laws are being followed. In California, there have been problems with dairy waste polluting waterways and contaminating groundwater. By working with the dairy industry and the Regional Water Quality Control Boards, EPA seeks to bring all dairies into compliance, insuring the protection of our water and holding all operators to a consistent set of standards.

This guide explains what you can expect from EPA during a typical inspection, although inspections vary depending on the type of operation and the purpose of the inspection. Below we outline what the inspector will be looking for and what follow-up actions may occur.

The Inspector: Your dairy may be inspected by an EPA employee or one of EPA's contractors. If an EPA contractor comes to your dairy, the contractor will only be gathering information. Compliance determinations about your facility will be made by EPA employees. Either way, the inspector will carry an identification card that establishes his/her credentials. You may call the EPA regional office in San Francisco at (415) 947-8021 to verify employment for EPA employees. To verify a contractor?s status contact Dan Meer (meer.daniel@epa.gov), Chief of the Office of Clean Water Act Compliance at (415) 972-3132. The inspector primarily will be looking at the animal waste management systems on your dairy.

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The Inspection: The inspector will want to tour your facility to check for compliance with environmental laws. He/she will be particularly interested in seeing how you manage your wastewater and manure to insure that surface and groundwater are protected.

Typically, the inspector will start by recording general information: weather conditions, the date, the facility's name and address, the county, the name of the owner/operator, and the phone number. You may be asked for more specific information: the type of operation and the type of animals you keep and the total number of animals (milking and dry). You may also be asked for the location of drains, irrigation ditches and waterways that are close to your dairy. Since many operators apply manure to cropland, you will also be asked for the total acreage, the number of acres of irrigated cropland, and what kinds of crops are grown on them. The inspector will take notes and record the latitude and longitude of your dairy so that the location of your facility can be accurately plotted on a map. He/she also may take photographs, video recordings and water samples. Feel free to photograph the same things the inspector does, take notes and ask questions.

You may be asked if you have Waste Discharge Requirements issued by the Regional Water Quality Control Board and what is included in that permit (if you have one). You also may be asked if you have filed a Notice of Intent to be covered under the California General Industrial Stormwater Permit. If you have questions about the state permitting process, contacts for your regional board are listed at the back of this document.

The specific aspects of the dairy the inspector will look at are:

  • Is any animal waste being discharged to surface waters or is there any evidence of recent discharge? Are there areas where the groundwater may be contaminated?
  • How is waste handled? Is there excessive waste in the corrals, fields, or along flush alleys? Is there a potential for discharge because of how the animal waste is being handled?
  • Is manure being applied to cropland? What kind of crops? How often and when? Is there a potential for discharge to surface waters because of how the manure is being applied to cropland?
  • Is there a retention pond or a waste lagoon and, if so, how large is it? Is there enough capacity? Is it properly constructed? How much freeboard (distance between the contents of the pond and the top) is there? Is it in good condition? How much solid material has settled? When was the last time it was dredged?
  • Are there any pipelines or other conveyances that allow animal waste to be discharged to ditches, canals, streams, or waterways?
  • How is stormwater handled? Are there well-maintained roof drains and gutters? Is the clean stormwater diverted around the wastewater systems?
  • Is stormwater diverted around the animal containment areas and animal waste piles? Are the corrals well-graded and properly sloped?
  • Is there a drinking water well? Is there a septic system? Are there any problems?

At the end of the inspection, the inspector will explain his/her findings. The inspector also may make recommendations on how you can reduce animal waste discharges.

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Confidential information: During the course of the inspection, you may give business information that you do not want the public to be able to access from EPA?s files. If this is the case, a claim of confidentiality must be made. EPA has adopted rules that govern business confidentiality claims and requests for information. In general, the person seeking to protect the confidentiality of information will need to show that the information, if made publicly available, would divulge trade secrets or should otherwise be treated as confidential. Trade secrets and confidential business information are protected from public disclosure. Generally, the inspection report itself is considered public information.

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After the Inspection: Usually the inspector will prepare an official inspection report which will be mailed to you; copies will be sent to the Regional Water Quality Control Board and the County Farm Advisor. If the inspector found violations, EPA has a range of actions it may take. In deciding how to proceed, EPA considers the severity of the violations, your intent, your responsiveness to correcting violations, and the economic benefit you may have received in violating the law. EPA may do any of the following:

  • EPA may send warning letters if, for example, your facility has conditions that potentially could lead to a violation. The appropriate course of action is to correct the condition; EPA may reinspect your dairy.
  • EPA may send you a Finding of Violation and Order, informing you of violations and requiring you to correct these. The appropriate course of action is to correct the condition and to notify EPA that you have done so. If you are having difficulty correcting the condition, you should notify the EPA immediately. Failure to comply with a compliance order can result in penalties of up to $27,500 per day per violation.
  • EPA may seek an administrative penalty. EPA may administratively assess a penalty of up to $11,000 per day for each day during which the violation continues, with a maximum of $137,500. EPA will notify you that it is proposing to assess a penalty. You may contact EPA and request a settlement conference. You may bring an attorney or consultant with you. You may negotiate with the EPA over the amount of the penalty and the actions the EPA is asking you to take. If you and EPA cannot reach agreement, your case may go before an administrative law judge. If you disagree with the administrative law judge?s decision, you may appeal in court.
  • EPA may begin a civil suit, asking a court to require you to take appropriate action to cease or remedy the violation, and to impose a penalty.

If at any time you have any questions about the inspection or the process, contact your inspector or Dan Meer (meer.daniel@epa.gov), Chief of the Office of Clean Water Act Compliance at (415) 972-2132.

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Criminal Charges: If EPA suspects that you have willingly, knowingly or negligently violated federal law, it may conduct a separate criminal investigation. If sufficient evidence is found, EPA may ask the U.S. Attorney?s Office to pursue criminal charges. This is rare but extremely serious, and can result in fines and jail time. If you have questions about the criminal process, call (415) 947-4456.

State Permits: Permit requirements vary in different parts of the state. To be sure you have the appropriate permit for your area, contact your regional water quality control board. A listing of local offices can be obtained from the California State Water Resources Control Board Exiting EPA (disclaimer)  Web site or by calling (916) 657-1247.

Assistance: In conjunction with the county farm advisors, the University of California Cooperative Extension holds an Environmental Stewardship Short Course for California Dairy Operators; contact your county farm advisor for more information. Listings for county farm advisors can be found in your local telephone directory or on the California Department of Food and Agriculture Web site.

Manure management assistance is also available from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Listings of offices near you are available on the USDA Information Locator.

EPA, with support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), has opened an Ag Center which has many resources including the latest information on the EPA/USDA animal feedlot operations strategy. The Ag Center can be reached at EPA's Agricultultural Center Web site or by calling, toll-free, (888) 663-2155.

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