EPA Files Clean Water Act Suit Against Michigan Dairy Farm

The United States federal government, on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has filed a lawsuit against Walnutdale Family Farm and farm operator Kevin Lettinga, alleging numerous violations of the Clean Water Act. The allegations arose from the violation of its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits; the complaint estimated that 120,000 gallons of manure and wastewater were discharged into a nearby body of water in one day.

This was not the first time the farm had faced litigation from the EPA. The EPA and environmental advocacy group the Sierra Club both sued the farm’s corporate predecessor, as well as Lettinga, in 2002. The farm was subjected to a consent decree as a result of that lawsuit in 2004; the complaint noted that the violations it described were also violations of the consent decree.

This complaint, filed May 7 in the Western District of Michigan, alleged that the farm failed to meet its permit requirements for the discharge fo pollutants. The government explained that “The 2010 Permit authorizes a discharge only where certain conditions are met and where the discharge does not cause or contribute to an exceedance of Michigan’s Water Quality Standards.”

Walnutdale Farms is classified as a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO). During an inspection carried out on April 8, 2013, EPA officials noted that wastewater from the feeding operation was discharged into the Red Run Drain. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality received a complaint just ten days later; their inspection showed the same results. The state agency issued a violation notice a few months later. In 2017, the EPA again attempted to inspect the farm but were denied entry. The inspection was successfully carried out a month later.

Among other violations, the government alleged violation of the permits, failure to report discharge and emergency volume levels in waste storage, failure to maintain depth gauges, and failure to inspect and maintain waste storage structures.