The recent storms have caused runoff from my animal feeding operation. What should I do?



The rain and snow of the last few weeks have been a welcome sight in much of our drought-ridden state. However, the precipitation has also brought about tragedies and challenges that have land and homeowners scrambling. In many areas, the amount of precipitation exceeded the 24-hour/25-year storm event.

Because of the precipitation, many farmers and ranchers are now dealing with runoff from animal feeding operations. Owners and operators should be aware that several scenarios can occur. Consider this information.

  • Imminent discharge. In this situation, discharge has not yet occurred, but will likely occur within a short time if ignored. This generally happens when liquid or solid manure storages are nearing capacity or when manure has potential to run off an application field. In response, owner/operators should attempt to prevent the release of manure. If this is not possible, options include: adding soil to the berm, increasing the dam’s elevation, beginning an emergency utilization of manure by pumping it onto fields at acceptable rates, stopping all additional flow (waterers, flushing systems, etc.) to the storage, calling a pumping contractor, preventing surface water from entering the storage and maintaining grassland near the storage for emergency manure application. Initiate these activities before storages exceed their temporary storage level.
  • Potential runoff from the application field is another problem. This could result from unexpected rains during the field application of manure. Again, try to prevent the release of manure to neighboring areas. To do this you can stop additional manure application, contain the manure on the field by creating a temporary diversion or berm and if possible, prevent further runoff by incorporating the manure.
  • Pollution in progress. In this case, the storage or manure handling system is actively discharging. It is important to quickly stop the flow and minimize the discharge’s impact on the environment by doing the following: stop the flow into the pipe, pit or liquid storage; prevent additional discharge by turning off the recycle flushing system, close valves controlling outflows to prevent a siphon effect; dig a holding area or construct a berm to contain discharge waters; repair defective components such as berm leaks caused by animals; trap or remove animals and fill holes with compacted clay soil. Permanent repair of storage problems may require consulting someone who is experienced in manure storage design and installation.
  • Pollution discovered after the fact. This occurs when s several days have passed before a discharge is discovered. Because the discovery was delayed, environmental impact may be increased. Thus, response should be swift to minimize damage. Stop additional discharge; contain spilled manure; attempt to apply spilled manure on cropland; notify agencies and local authorities; and assess the environmental impact of fish kills, surface water pollution, well water or groundwater impact, as well as the amount and duration of the manure released. If manure must be applied on fields, increase the application setback distance from water sources (rivers, streams, ponds, irrigation conveyance ditches, etc).

An emergency preparedness and response plan should be in place to mitigate the current or future discharge of manure and excess water. This is a basic, yet thorough, common-sense plan that will help you make the right decision during an emergency. Such a plan shows responsible preparation, protects you and others against environmental damage and should meet state requirements. Emergency preparedness and response plans are needed to minimize the environmental impact of manure spills, discharges or mishaps.

For more information on developing an emergency preparedness and response plan, contact your local Utah State University Cooperative Extension agricultural agent, the local USDA-NRCS or the local Utah Conservation District.

Posted on 18 Jul 2006

John Harrison
Agricultural Waste Management Specialist
Dallen Smith
Agricultural Water Quality Program Coordinator

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