Chapter 1: Why Are We Here?

Statutory Requirement

You are here for several reasons. The most important is to learn how to manage a waste utilization plan and waste management system to get the most benefit from the by-products of your animal operation and at the same time protect the soil and water resources surrounding your farm.

In 1996, the N.C. General Assembly passed a law that affects those facilities that maintain over 250 swine, 100 or more confined cattle, 75 or more horses, 1,000 or more sheep, or 30,000 or more confined poultry with a liquid animal waste management system. The purpose of the law is to reduce nonpoint source pollution in order to protect the public health, to conserve and protect the quality of the state’s water resources, and to encourage the development and improvement of the state’s agricultural land for the production of food and other agricultural products.

Explain the reasons for and requirements of certified operators for animal waste management systems.

As required by North Carolina General Statute 90-47, owners of animal operations with animal waste management systems must designate an "operator in charge" for each of their systems. An operator in charge is a person who holds a currently valid certificate to operate an animal waste management system and who has primary responsibility for the operation of the system. The goal is to ensure that animal waste is handled properly in an environmentally sound manner, without negative impacts on state surface waters, groundwater, soils and crops, grazing animals or other consumers of the crops, and without impacts to your neighbors. The law became effective January 1, 1997.

Note: The definition of surface waters is very broad, and it may include channelized streams, large drainage ditches, or other features that have the potential to carry pollutants to other "more obvious" surface waters such as streams, swamps, lakes, or coastal waters.

To help meet this goal, two training and certification programs have been developed. If you intend to operate a swine or a poultry operation with a liquid waste management system, you must obtain a Type A certificate. If you intend to operate an animal waste management system involving cattle, horses, or sheep, you must obtain a Type B certificate.

To become certified, you must attend the appropriate training program, demonstrate knowledge of operation of animal waste management systems by passing the appropriate examination, and pay the required fees. To maintain your certification you must complete 6 hours of additional training every 3 years and pay a yearly renewal fee.

Only the operator in charge, or someone under their supervision, may apply animal waste to land. The owner or other person in control of the land is responsible for making sure that the land application is performed by an operator in charge or a person under their supervision. Fines may be imposed if waste is land applied without a certified operator.

Note: This certificate is not the same thing as registration of your operation with the Division of Water Quality (DWQ). It is not the same as certification of your animal waste management plan by a technical specialist that is required under the Subchapter .0200 regulations (DWQ regulations). This is an additional requirement. Other regulations that may apply to your facility will be discussed in more detail in Chapter 8. Additional information concerning the training and certification requirements and procedures may be obtained by contacting the Technical Assistance and Certification Group of DWQ at (919) 733-0026.


Water Quality Issues

All wastes and wastewaters must be handled properly if the environment and public health are to be protected. Runoff from feedlots and confined animal operations has the potential to harm surface waters and the plant and animal life that lives in or depends on those waters. It also has the ability to affect groundwater quality and could impact the drinking water on your land or your neighbor’s land.

Define surface water, groundwater, and hydrologic cycle.

All water falling as rain or snow either evaporates, soaks into the soil, or runs off the land. Water that does not evaporate either moves as surface runoff into streams, rivers, and lakes or percolates through the soil. Water on the land in streams and lakes is called surface water, while water under the surface is called groundwater. The movement of water on the land, in the ground, and through the air is termed the hydrologic cycle (see Figure 1-1).

Figure 1-1. The hydrologic cycle.

Irrigation of waste materials acts much the same way as natural rainfall. Use by the crops, evaporation, and infiltration into the soil are the goal of the operator of the waste management system. Runoff from a waste application is not acceptable. Therefore, the job of the operator is to match his waste application rate not only to supply the nutrient needs of the crop, but also to match the rate at which the soil will accept and hold the waste materials.

Give examples of point source and nonpoint source pollution.

Point source pollution is a single identifiable source of pollution, such as a pipe through which factories or treatment plants discharge treated wastewater into a surface water. A permit is required for any point source discharge of pollutants into surface waters.

Nonpoint source (NPS) pollution is more difficult to trace to its point of origin because it takes place over a broad area and results in the release of pollutants from many different locations. Runoff from agriculture, forestry, highway, and residential and urban development are examples of nonpoint source pollutants (Figure 1-2).

Figure 1-2. Potential sources of nonpoint source pollution.


Effect of Nutrients on Water Quality

Define the eutrophication process and problems it causes in surface waters.

Eutrophication is the slow, natural nutrient enrichment of streams and lakes and is responsible for the "aging" of ponds, lakes, and reservoirs. Excessive amounts of nutrients from point and nonpoint source pollution, especially nitrogen and phosphorus, speed up the eutrophication process. Rapid eutrophication is usually associated with increased algae growth. As more and more algae grow and then decompose, they deplete the dissolved oxygen in slow moving water. This condition may result in fish kills, offensive odors, unsightliness, and reduced attractiveness of the water for recreation and other public uses. These poor conditions have been observed in eastern North Carolina river systems. However, this condition occurs only when excessive nutrients are present. A certain amount of nitrogen and phosphorus is essential for any life to exist in water.

Other waste components may also affect water quality. Animal waste contains bacteria, viruses, ammonia, organics, and a variety of other chemicals which may impact plant and animal life in the river. Additionally, the bacteria have the potential to infect humans who use the water for fishing, recreation, or drinking water supply.

Excessive waste applications have the potential to harm groundwater as well. The soil is a very effective waste treatment system if wastes are applied at the proper rate so as not to overload the soil. If the soil has been overloaded or if measures are not taken to adequately protect wells, there is the possibility of groundwater contamination. The soil is a controlling factor in the groundwater recharge process because it may hold the water in soil pores, release it to plant roots or the atmosphere, or allow it to pass through to the lower layers and groundwater.

The soil can filter pollutants and prevent them from reaching groundwater. However, soils vary tremendously in their adsorption, or filtering, capacity. As a result, under some conditions, pollutants may take months or years to move from the land surface to the groundwater. Under other conditions they can flow almost directly into the groundwater. An understanding of soil characteristics is essential in determining the potential for groundwater contamination in a given situation. The following soil characteristics are important in determining a soil’s ability to treat waste products.

Explain the soil features that affect waste treatment.

Depth to groundwater is important primarily because it determines the volume of soil through which a pollutant must travel before reaching the groundwater. It also determines the amount of time that a pollutant is in contact with the soil. Where the soil is fairly deep, the processes of filtration, absorption and adsorption, biodegradation, and volatilization that occur in the soil operate effectively. Conversely, shallow soils can adsorb only a limited amount of pollutants. The pollution potential increases where the soils are thin and the underlying bedrock is permeable, or where the water table is near the surface.

The relative proportion of sand, silt, and clay in a soil determines its texture. Sandy soils allow water to drain rapidly, and the result is that soil does not hold the waste materials (nutrients) so they can be used by the crops. Soils with more clay (clay soils are sticky when wet, and hard and clumpy when dry) are better suited for holding the waste materials until the nutrients can be used by the crops. As a result, groundwater contamination is less likely in clay soils. Most of the piedmont region is characterized by clay soils.

Organic Matter Content has a very large absorptive capacity for most pollutants. For most soils, organic matter is concentrated in the topsoil. Maintaining an active organic component in the topsoil through good soil and crop management enhances the soil’s capacity to serve as a filter.

Runoff from a site is determined by the slope of the land, the soil texture, and the thickness and type of cover crop. Soils heavy in clay will have a much lower capacity to absorb water versus a sandy soil. Steeper slopes increase runoff. The use of cover crops and best management practices (BMPs) as described in Chapter 3 will help a site’s ability to absorb water and reduce the possibility of runoff. While infiltration rate estimates are available, you must tailor the waste application rate to your individual situation based on your experience, and closely monitor the actual irrigation to ensure there is no runoff. This will be covered in detail in Chapter 5.

Groundwater is an essential natural resource. Ninety percent of rural residents and 50 percent of the total population in the United States depend on groundwater as a source of drinking water. Concern about its quality and potential contamination has made groundwater protection a national issue.

There are several reasons for the widespread dependence on groundwater. In its natural state, groundwater is usually of excellent quality and can be used without costly treatment or purification. It can be inexpensively tapped next to the point of use, thereby saving the cost of transporting water over long distances. For rural residents relying on individual wells and for public water supplies in some communities, groundwater is often the only available water supply.

Describe what an quifer is and how groundwater flows.

The underground formation through which groundwater moves is called an aquifer (Figure 1-2). Groundwater does not consist of large underground lakes or streams. It occupies spaces within rock fractures or between particles of sand, gravel, silt, or clay. Furthermore, groundwater does not move rapidly in the aquifer. It may move only a few feet per month or even per year, whereas surface streams flow several feet per second.

It is also important to understand that pumping water from a well can change the natural flow of groundwater in its vicinity. The net result can be a complete reversal in groundwater flow on the downstream side of the well. Thus, a downstream contaminant may actually be drawn against the natural flow into an upstream well. The possible range of such an effect depends on the rate of pumping and the ability of water to move within the aquifer.

Excessive nitrate (NO3) in drinking water can cause human and animal health problems, particularly for small babies. One source of excess nitrate in groundwater is the overapplication of nitrogen fertilizers or wastes to the soil. The United States Public Health Service has established a specific standard of 10 milligrams of nitrate nitrogen per liter (10 ppm NO3-N) as the maximum concentration safe for humans to drink.


Other Issues

Explain why animal waste is a resource.

There are other incentives to managing your waste properly. The waste or "by-products" that result from the production of animals, poultry, and their respective commodities has good nutrient (fertilizer) value and should be handled as a valuable resource.

List several nonproducer concerns (such as community and environmental) of livestock, egg, and milk production.

There is much interest from environmental groups in the operation of large animal and poultry operations. And likely, there may be local interest from neighbors that live close to your facility. These individuals and groups strive to maintain their individual standard of living and comfortable surroundings, as well as ensure that their property and the environment is not harmed. Issues such as odor, loss of property value, and concern for drinking water quality are raised frequently by neighbors of animal and poultry operations.

This manual will not deal with legal issues surrounding property uses or nuisances; the purpose is strictly to train operators to manage their wastes in the best manner possible. Suffice it to say that good management may help you avoid lawsuits. However, as an operator, you cannot ignore the potential for nuisances, and it is advisable to develop an individual plan based on your local circumstances that deals with these issues. You should consider ahead of time what course of action you may need to take should you become involved in lawsuits concerning your operation.

Explain several consequences of mismanagement of any animal waste management system.

Mismanagement of a facility may certainly impact the environment, as discussed above. Other consequences include regulatory penalties (fines), criminal enforcement, injunctions, additional regulatory requirements, production losses, and lost business opportunities. So, while it is important to properly manage the facility to prevent environmental problems or conflict with neighbors, it is just as important to properly manage the facility for your interests.


Program Objectives

Specific objectives of this training and certification program include the following: 

  1. To increase the waste handling and management skills of animal and poultry producers, to make them aware of the nutrient values of animal waste products, and to maximize the use of these wastes to prevent contamination of surface waters and groundwaters.

  2. To certify competency in waste management for specific individual(s) on each animal or poultry farm who will be accountable and responsible for the operation of the animal waste management system.

The training will focus on:

  1. The requirements of the laws and rules

  2. Basic knowledge of water movement and how animal and poultry waste may affect water quality

  3. How to manage and maintain waste management systems including lagoons and storage ponds

  4. How to take samples of animal waste for waste characterization, and how to sample soils and crops for agronomic purposes

  5. Development and importance of cropping systems which efficiently use the nutrients contained in animal waste

  6. Calibration of land application equipment

  7. The need to maintain adequate written records

  8. Timing of land application based on lagoon level, crop needs, weather, and soil conditions

  9. Appropriate use of buffers

  10. Odor control

  11. Insect control

  12. Animal mortality

  13. Good neighbor practices

  14. Development of safety and emergency action plans

  15. Availability of technical and educational assistance


Review Questions

  1. What is the purpose of the law requiring a certified waste management system operator?

  2. Describe the hydrologic cycle.

  3. Why is it important to keep waste products out of surface waters and groundwater?

  4. Define eutrophication.

  5. Describe how soil texture, depth, and organic matter content can affect nutrient transport to groundwater.

  6. Explain how animal and poultry waste (by-products) can be recycled and utilized as a resource.

  7. Define aquifer.

  8. What are some of the consequences if an animal or poultry operation causes pollution?

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