Animal Agriculture:

Information on Waste Management and Water Quality Issues

RCED-95-200BR: Published: Jun 28, 1995. Publicly Released: Jun 28, 1995.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the management of animal agriculture waste and related water quality issues, focusing on: (1) water quality concerns arising from animal agriculture sources of nonpoint pollution; (2) consolidation trends and geographical shifts in animal agriculture; (3) animal agriculture production covered by point source permits; (4) commonly used animal waste management practices and their associated costs; (5) Department of Agriculture (USDA) cost-share assistance for animal waste management; and (6) the management of wastes associated with animal breeding and feeding operations.

GAO found that: (1) animal waste runoff can introduce excess nutrients, organic matter, and pathogens into surface- and groundwater; (2) agricultural nonpoint pollution is a major factor in water quality degradation; (3) since 1970, the concentration of animal production in large, confined operations has increased for each of the 6 livestock categories studied; (4) geographical shifts in livestock production vary with the specific livestock industry; (5) large, concentrated feeding operations can obtain point source permits to control sources of pollution discharges; (6) many feedlot operations are not required to have point source permits because they do not discharge wastes during most storm events, but many other operations that should have permits do not because of erroneous exemptions or insufficient resources to identify all operations needing permits; (7) commonly used animal waste management practices include storage structures to hold animal wastes until they can be used as fertilizer, buffers to filter nutrients and organic matter from runoff before it reaches surface water, and nutrient management which ensures proper timing and application of manure as fertilizer; (8) waste management costs vary depending on the size and type of operation; and (9) USDA provided about $89 million in cost-share assistance to farmers for animal waste management for fiscal years 1992 through 1994.

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