Board Approves Poultry Consent Orders

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By Linda Cicoira

The State Water Control Board approved consent orders late last week for 57 poultry operations on the Eastern Shore allowing each of them to withdraw more than 300,000 gallons of groundwater a month.

Cindy Berndt, director of regulatory affairs for the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), said this week that the orders allow groundwater withdrawal pending submission of a permit application, which is mandatory. The action requires the users to submit completed groundwater withdrawal permit applications by Oct. 1 and coordinate with the DEQ for any new well construction. It also establishes groundwater withdrawal limits and required metering and reporting.

The consent orders do not restrict the users to pumping from the upper aquifer, known as the Columbia, which replenishes faster, and was suggested by the Eastern Shore Groundwater Committee, several conservation groups, and others who are concerned the limited water source could be depleted by using the deeper aquifer or that the withdrawals could cause irreversible saltwater intrusion.

“DEQ’s experience working with the community of groundwater users has shown that some users remain unaware of the regulatory requirements for a groundwater withdrawal permit, or are unaware that their groundwater withdrawal meets the criteria requiring a permit,” Berndt said.

DEQ met with poultry industry representatives and farms operators twice in 2017 to discuss the regulatory requirements and the ongoing compliance assistance framework. A total of 32 new groundwater withdrawal permit applications associated with poultry operations were received on or before Dec. 15. Those that did not respond were sent violation notices.

On April 16, DEQ offered draft consent orders to the 57 without the assessment of a civil penalty. Withdrawal permits are offered for a maximum of 10 years.

According to the DEQ website, “Most applications for new or expanded groundwater withdrawal permits are required to include: a pre-application meeting with the DEQ Office of Water Supply staff before submittal of an application; demonstration of the need for the proposed amount of water withdrawal; well construction documentation, geophysical log data and location data for all system wells; hydrogeologic information; and a plan to mitigate impacts to pre-existing users within the area of impact of the project.

A water conservation and management plan is also mandatory and requires: the use of water-saving plumbing and processes; a water loss reduction program that defines the leak detection and repair program; a water use education program; evaluation of potential water reuse options; mandatory use reduction during water shortage emergencies with ordinances and penalties in place for municipal systems; an evaluation of the lowest quality water needed for the intended beneficial use; an alternative water supply source evaluation for the proposed withdrawal; and the application fee, depending upon the type of use.