The Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Water Resources (DWR) has issued digester system general permits for qualified animal feeding operations. The general digester permits were developed following a comprehensive stakeholder and public engagement process and thorough review of public comments. These general permits are in effect through September 2024.
The North Carolina General Assembly directed the Division of Water Resources to develop general permits by July 1, 2022, for existing Animal Feeding Operations that intend to build and operate a digester system. Session Law 2021-78, known as the 2021 Farm Act, describes the general permit requirements. Currently, digester systems are processed as modifications to a facility’s existing permit. The three general permits cover the installation and operation of digester systems at existing swine, cattle, and wet poultry operations.
The new general permits will include all of the existing requirements of the 2019 State General Animal Waste Management Permits, including developing and maintaining a Certified Animal Waste Management Plan, and complying with siting, buffer, testing, inspection and reporting requirements. Also included are the three conditions of the 2019 General Permit for Swine that were challenged through the Office of Administrative Hearings and reinstated by the Superior Court ruling on June 21, 2022. The conditions involve the enhanced use of the phosphorous loss assessment on field application, groundwater monitoring within the 100-year floodplain and the annual report requirement.
The digester general permits require that digesters do not impact surface or groundwater quality. Digester systems and operations must also meet criteria in the NRCS standards for anaerobic digesters and covers, including measures for the safe operation of biogas equipment and applicants must submit an engineer’s certification of the installation prior to operation of the digester system. The general permits also require monitoring of the digester system influent and effluent on a quarterly basis. Any person seeking a certificate of coverage under the new general permits will be required to submit an application to the Division. Individual permits may be required by the Division Director based on several criteria including site-specific conditions and non-compliance.
As part of its commitment to a transparent public engagement process, DEQ held four public meetings, facilitated by independent moderators in April 2022 (three in-person, one virtual) on the draft Animal Waste Management Digester System general permits, as well as a facilitated stakeholder process in 2021 that included two virtual stakeholder meetings and a virtual public input session prior to the release of draft permits in February 2022. Summaries of the stakeholder workgroup sessions and a recording of the input session, along with the recording of the public hearings, are available online at https://deq.nc.gov/digesterpermits.
The general permits, the hearing officer’s report which includes a summary of public comments and responses, the public comments, environmental justice report and other materials generated as part of the permits development are available online.