Agricultural Nutrients and Water Quality: Recent Litigation in the United States

July 22, 2020
Photo of a green field with a narrow drainage ditch going through the middle.

Our newest report for the National Agricultural Law Center examines litigation involving agricultural nutrients from 2018 through 2020. Agricultural Nutrients and Water Quality: Recent Litigation in the United States, is available here.  

Since the advent of the Clean Water Act (CWA), states have attempted to address agricultural nutrient pollution through the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination Permit (NPDES) system. But legal challenges have plagued state NPDES permit programs from their beginnings, and litigation has become a common tool for reducing water quality impacts from manure and other agricultural nutrients.  In this report, we examine what the courts have to say when it comes to NPDES permits for individual farms and whether they are properly issued by states, whether or not the government (state and federal) is following its own laws and regulations when carrying out water pollution policies, the validity of state CAFO General Discharge permits, and whether or not neighboring landowners have redress for potential agricultural runoff.  Some of the cases are challenges to state water quality laws, or the issuance of an NPDES permit.   A few other cases directly target agricultural producers. 

In addition to the paper, we also recently updated  our nutrient management project on the National Agricultural Law Center’s website, which compiles state laws on nutrient management plans, nutrient application restrictions, and certification and education for nutrient applicators and provides links to states’ nutrient management laws and regulations,  here.

The USDA’s National Agriculture Library funded our research on these related projects, which we conducted in partnership with the National Agricultural Law Center.