Speaker discusses issues with interpreting setbacks

AFP Correspondent

OCEAN CITY, Md. (Dec. 9, 2014) — Dr. John Lory of the University of Missouri is not surprised you may be confused by setback restrictions for manure application.
Lory, Extension associate professor in environmental nutrient management, manages a database of setback requirements and recommendations for most of the United States. Although he has been at the project for six years, he says it is “incredibly difficult to figure out” what setback requirements apply to specific situations.
The database, a one-stop resource for setback requirements is available at and includes data for about 40 states.
A user can see setbacks for each type of feature in the landscape.
In the Mid-Atlantic, information is available for Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware and Virginia.
Lory, speaking at the 20th annual Mid-Atlantic crop management school on Nov. 19, noted setbacks come from many rules including federal regulations for concentrated animal feeding operations, state rules, state and Natural Resource Conservation Service standards and county ordinances.
He said many factors influence setback limits and the applicable factors vary widely among states.
They can include size and type of operation, animal type, storage type, manure form, method or type of application, placement of manure (surface or sub-surface), slope, ground cover, soil test phosphorus level, presence of snow and ice, and the setback feature such as a stream or dwelling.
He described current problems with the database including “whether we have found all sources of setback requirements, whether we have correctly interpreted those requirements, and whether we capture all changes made in a state.”
He sought feedback on potential errors or misinterpretations in the database, saying, “There are a lot of grey areas when you are working with setbacks,” including challenges in interpreting the regulatory language.
He noted standards for setbacks from drinking water wells are not mentioned in two of the five Mid-Atlantic States. Three of the region’s states have no setbacks for non-water features such as property lines or occupied structures.
He noted that each state has different definitions for surface water and regulations consider different factors. “There is no clarity in definitions for intermittent streams, springs or drainage ditches,” he said.
Lory had several recommendations for state and federal regulators. He would like to see designated state authorities work together to define a unified setback strategy and a single publication. He said this could address issues such as the absence of drinking water wells to national CAFO setback rules.
He asked for more specificity on protected resources
“If authorities cannot be clear, how can planners succeed?” he asked.
He called for simplification because varying rules for different seasons or types of application require several maps.
He also urged regulators to recognize setbacks will be used with software and asks they provide “complete logic decision trees” and use criteria that are software appropriate.