Agricultural Water Quality
The Environmental Protection Division of the Attorney General’s Office enforces Vermont’s water pollution laws and regulations. Working cooperatively with the Agency of Agriculture (AAFM), and Agency of Natural Resources (ANR), the Division has committed to enhanced enforcement of these laws and regulations in the area of agricultural water quality. The Division works closely with AAFM and ANR to identify farms that have water quality problems and to bring civil enforcement action where appropriate. Non-compliant farms, repeat offenders and cases presenting significant or continuing environmental impacts are a priority.
Enforcement cases brought by the Division focus on stopping the problems through injunctive relief for corrective action on the ground at the farm and accountability through the imposition of civil penalties.
The Division meets regularly with AAFM and ANR to discuss new and ongoing agricultural water quality matters and coordinate enforcement actions to ensure timely enforcement across the state.
In August of 2016, the Office of the Attorney General, AAFM and ANR/Department of Environmental Conservation signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) concerning agricultural water quality enforcement referrals to the Vermont Attorney General. The MOU promotes communication between the Attorney General’s Office, AAFM and ANR and will assist in the continued coordination of efforts on agricultural water quality enforcement cases. The Division expects additional referrals in the future under the terms of the MOU.
In recent months, the Division has successfully concluded a number of agricultural water quality enforcement cases, including:
- October 2018 – The Attorney General’s Office settled an enforcement action with Kane’s Scenic River Farms, LLC. The enforcement action related to discharges of silage leachate and manure from the Sheldon, Vermont farm to the Missisquoi River. The Missisquoi River flows into the Missisquoi Bay of Lake Champlain, which has one of the highest phosphorus concentrations of any segment of Lake Champlain. In the settlement, Kane’s Scenic River Farms agreed to pay $13,500 in civil penalties and agreed to implement a long-term, agency-approved plan to permanently eliminate silage leachate discharges from the farm. The farm also took action to ensure the manure discharge at issue would not recur. October 17, 2018 press release with links to court filings.
- December 2017 – The Attorney General’s Office settled an enforcement action with Pleasant Valley Farms of Berkshire, LLC. In July 2016, the silage leachate pond at the farm discharged into the nearby Godin Brook. The leachate discharge flowed at least 7,200 feet downstream toward the Missisquoi River. Godin Brook is considered impaired for nutrients and outlets in Missisquoi Bay, which is impaired for phosphorus and has one of the highest concentrations of phosphorus of any segment of Lake Champlain. Under the terms of the settlement, Pleasant Valley Farms agreed to pay $14,000 in civil penalties and agreed not to use the use the pipe/valve system that caused the discharge from the leachate pond. Press release from December 20, 2017, with links to court filings.
- July 2016 – A Brandon dairy farm operated by William and Robin Hanfield was ordered to take corrective action at the farm’s manure pit and pay $24,750 in civil penalties for violations of Vermont’s water pollution laws and agricultural practice regulations. The Hanfields were found liable for allowing the manure pit at the farm to overtop on three separate occasions in late 2014 and early 2015. Manure-laden water from the pit was observed flowing from the pit into a nearby ditch, across a pasture, and eventually into a tributary of the Neshobe River. The corrective actions ordered at the farm include: certification to AAFM by November 1st for the next 3 years that the farm has 180 days of capacity in the manure pit; the hiring of an outside engineer to work with AAFM to review the manure pit’s construction, use and capacity; and limiting the use of the pit to on-site generated waste only. Press release from July 11, 2016.
- December 2014 – A dairy farm operation with farms in Derby and Derby Line, Nelson Farms, Inc., admitted to violations of Vermont’s water pollution law and agricultural practice regulations and agreed to pay the State forty-five thousand dollars ($45,000.00) in civil penalties. Under the terms of this settlement, Nelson Farms admitted that its two farms operated in violation of Vermont’s AAPs, their respective Medium Farm Operation (MFO) permits, and statutory prohibitions on unpermitted discharges to State waters at various times in 2013. In addition to the $45,000.00 payment, Nelson Farms is required to have a professional engineer certify all future work at the two farms, no further discharges to State waters, and that each farm will comply with all applicable laws, permits and rules in the future. Press release from January 8, 2015
- November 2014 – A Franklin County dairy farm, Leach Farms, Inc., admitted to violations of Vermont’s water pollution law and agricultural practice regulations and agreed to pay the State forty-thousand dollars ($40,000) in civil penalties. This matter concerned three discharges by Leach Farms to the Bogue Brook in Enosburg Falls in the fall of 2013. Three manure spreading vehicles owned by Leach Farms took water from the brook, drove downstream and discharged manure-laden water from their tanks back into the Bogue Brook. Each spreader made two such “rinsing” discharges. A video of the discharges was filed in Vermont Superior Court as a part of the settlement. Leach Farms admitted to the conduct as a part of the resolution of the State’s claim. Press release from November 20, 2014.
- September 2014 – A Coventry dairy farmer, Richard M. Nelson, admitted to violations of Vermont’s water pollution law and agricultural practice regulations and agreed to pay the State thirty-three thousand dollars ($33,000) in civil penalties. Mr. Nelson admitted that he violated the AAPs and statutory prohibition on discharges to state waters at his Coventry farm at various times between 2009 and 2011 by discharging silage leachate from concrete bunkers on the farm to waters of the State via a pipe. In addition to the civil penalties, Mr. Nelson implemented corrective action to eliminate the discharges to state waters to the satisfaction of the State agencies. Press release from September 23, 2014.
Links to state laws and regulations: