Lawsuit Challenges CO Failure to Protect Water, Public Health From Unchecked Factory Farm Pollution 

Published May 24, 2024


Food System

Fort Collins, CO — The Center for Biological Diversity and Food & Water Watch sued Gov. Jared Polis’s administration Thursday over its failure to protect Colorado waters and public health from factory farm pollution. 

Colorado violated state and federal laws by failing to include essential pollution-monitoring provisions in a statewide general water-pollution permit for concentrated animal feeding operations, according to Thursday’s lawsuit

The permit is intended to regulate pollution discharges from approximately 102 of the state’s largest CAFOs. 

Tyler Lobdell, staff attorney for Food & Water Watch said:

“Colorado factory farms generate billions of pounds of dangerous waste that threatens waterways every year, yet the state is taking a see-no-evil approach to regulating this industry. Ignoring pollution does nothing to protect clean water and public health. Comprehensive pollution monitoring for Colorado’s factory farms is imperative — after all, you can’t control what you don’t measure.”

CAFOs confine thousands of animals that generate massive amounts of waste laden with pathogens, heavy metals, pharmaceuticals and pesticides. 

A Food & Water Watch analysis found that Colorado factory farms produce 34 billion pounds of manure each year — more than four times the amount produced by the state’s human population. The facilities operate as sewer-less cities, often storing waste in open-air pits or lagoons before spreading or spraying it onto cropland. 

As CAFOs have become larger and more concentrated, their pollution burden has grown. The average Colorado feedlot today confines nearly 13,000 beef cattle — an increase of nearly 80% in the past 20 years. The average Colorado mega-dairy herd size has more than doubled over this time to 3,000 cows.    

“Gov. Polis should be a leader on preventing water pollution in Colorado, not compelling us to sue his administration to enforce Clean Water Act oversight of dangerous factory farm pollution,” said Hannah Connor, environmental health deputy director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Colorado regulators can’t protect the health of the state’s waterways without addressing the billions of pounds of animal waste being dumped into the landscape every year.”

The Clean Water Act requires polluters such as CAFOs to follow strict discharge permits to limit dangerous pollution. But Colorado’s permitting process contains significant loopholes that conceal the timing and amounts of pollution released by the operations into waterways.

Today’s lawsuit follows administrative appeals in October 2021 and again in June 2022 that challenged Colorado’s failure to include monitoring and reporting provisions in its statewide water-pollution permit for factory farms. Those provisions are vital to holding the operations accountable for illegal pollution.

The filing is the latest in a series of lawsuits seeking to strengthen factory farm water pollution monitoring in the United States, including a Montana filing last year and recent victories in Idaho and Washington.

Thursday’s lawsuit was filed in the Larimer County District Court. The Center and Food & Water Watch are represented by the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.

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Press Contact: Phoebe Galt [email protected]