Proposed Changes to Groundwater Discharge Permits Affecting Custom Slaughterhouses

 (The information in this article comes as a result of enforcement actions brought against some members of the Michigan Meat Association , and through contact with regulators.)

Environmental Resources Group (ERG), has discovered that the 2020 version of the Groundwater Discharge Permit (GDP) from the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), formerly the Department of Environmental Quality, could contain many changes for those businesses subject to Rule 323.2215.  Some of the issues EGLE is considering, and may enforce, include the following items.  This list is not exhaustive, nor is it listed in order of decreased emphasis as all issues are equally important.

·         Pre-treatment of the wastewater, prior to land application, for any effluent that exceeds 35 milligrams per liter (mg/L) Total Inorganic Nitrogen (TIN) concentrations.  The typical TIN effluent concentration from a slaughterhouse is 175 mg/L or more.

·         Tighter enforcement of the discharge rates on crop ground.  The current permit allows a maximum rate per day/acre (depending on the season) with no regard to the soil type (ability of soil to absorb the wastewater) or the agronomic needs of the active crop being grown.

·         Require application rates to crop ground based on Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD) concentrations (a measurement of the overall strength of the wastewater) instead of allowing a blanket discharge rate per day per acre (depending on the season and locale) with no regards to the wastewater strength.  This trend is akin to how manure applications by large livestock producers are regulated by EGLE.  The measurement would likely be in pounds of BOD/acre/day instead of a blanket maximum discharge rate.

·         Greater emphasis on the total acres of crop ground available for land application (more acres would be needed if the holding ponds are emptied over a short time period) due to the strength of the wastewater and to confirm no runoff occurs to surface water bodies.

·         Request to provide details on equipment used for land application and method of application.

·         Closer evaluation of existing liners and conformance to Michigan’s Rule 323 requirements for industrial wastewater storage structure criteria.

·         More frequent MiWaters reporting (monthly vs. annually), including where and how much discharge occurs at specific locations.

·         Source separation of sanitary and process wastewater (the State no longer wants “untreated” human sewage to be land applied).

 

EGLE argues these changes are needed to improve the quality of the state’s surface waters.  A decrease in water quality in many streams and rivers noted in recent years has caused the State to look at ways to increase compliance within the existing regulatory framework.  This new directive is also in conflict with what has previously been permitted, and approved, for “grandfathered” operations.

 These are very significant changes to the new GDP, and could unfortunately, cause some businesses to close.

As a long-standing Supplier Member of the Michigan Meat Association (MMA),  Mathew Germane, P.E., Senior Engineer at ERG, has been assisting the Michigan Farm Bureau and MMA-led coalition, with support from Michigan’s main livestock species groups (beef, dairy, swine, and poultry), to educate EGLE and to seek other options to achieve compliance that may not be as costly to agribusiness.  In general, the approach of the coalition has been to persuade the regulators that custom slaughterhouses should be treated more like an agricultural business than a manufacturing business.  Unfortunately, slaughterhouses, large and small (even garage deer processors) are, by definition, classified as an industry and must hire a hazardous waste licensed firm to even empty their septic tanks.

Other options discussed by the coalition include seeking compromises with EGLE to:

·         Issue agricultural exemptions, as currently custom slaughterhouses are classified as “industrial” businesses.

·         Appeal the permit to the newly established EGLE Environmental Permit Review Committee.

·         Raise awareness with the State Legislators to change the law to be more favorable to custom slaughterhouses while still being protective of the environment.

 While EGLE has been working to develop a new 2020 R323.2215 GDP for meat processors that do slaughter, it is not likely it will be completed and issued for public comment before the next permit renewal application deadline occurs.  If this occurs, the current permit would be extended until the new one is ready for issuance.

If there are any topics in this article that are of interest, please feel free to contact Matt at (248) 773-7986 or at matt.germane@ergrp.net.

Jennifer David