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South Dakota State Conservationist, Janet Oertly, receives EPA Environmental Achievement Award

Release Date: 09/03/2008
Contact Information: Richard Mylott, 303 312-6654; Jeffery McGuire, 605 352-1100

State NRCS director cited for assisting livestock producers with water pollution control

(Denver, Colo. -- September 3, 2008) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has recognized Janet Oertly, State Conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), with an Environmental Achievement Award for superior leadership in protecting water quality in South Dakota. Oertly received her award today at a ceremony in Huron, S.D.

Oertly's efforts to assist livestock producers have led to the adoption of manure containment systems and nutrient management plans for feedlots across the state. The measures associated with these permits prevent animal waste and wastewater from degrading surface and groundwater quality at hundreds of sites in South Dakota. Oertly was nominated by Steve Pirner, Secretary of the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

"Janet Oertly has made protecting South Dakota's water resources a priority," said Judy Wong, EPA's Acting Regional Administrator in Denver. "The collaborative approach she has taken with the state's livestock producers have led to practices that are protecting water quality in lakes, rivers and streams."

Oertly accepted this EPA Achievement Award on behalf of NRCS staff and the State Technical Committee (STC). As State Conservationist, she is responsible for NRCS staff and programs in South Dakota. The STC, convened by the State Conservationist, consists of individuals representing commodity groups; private entities; tribal representatives; private individuals; and federal, state, and local governments. The STC meets quarterly and provides advice to the State Conservationist on a variety of NRCS programs, including the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).

Under Oertly's direction, the EQIP has provided funds to help producers voluntarily implement conservation projects to improve water quality for animal feeding operations. Over the past four years, funding has totaled more than $15 million for 164 conservation projects in South Dakota. These projects include waste storage facilities, diversions, sediment basins, composting facilities, and animal mortality facilities.

In addition to these efforts, NRCS staff has assisted large, permitted and non-permitted animal feeding operators with the development of phosphorous-based nutrient management plans and designed manure containment systems. The NRCS has also assisted in many efforts to educate livestock producers on additional ways to improve water quality.

Improving the management of runoff from animal feedlots has been an EPA priority for more than a decade. Manure and wastewater from animal feedlots have the potential to contribute pollutants such as nitrogen and phosphorus, organic matter, sediments, pathogens, heavy metals, hormones, antibiotics, and ammonia to the environment. Excess nutrients in water (i.e., nitrogen and phosphorus) can result in or contribute to low levels of dissolved oxygen (anoxia), eutrophication, and toxic algal blooms. These conditions may be harmful to human health and, in combination with other circumstances, have been associated with outbreaks of microbes such as Pfiesteria piscicida. Decomposing organic matter (i.e., animal waste) can also reduce oxygen levels and cause fish kills. Nitrogen in the form of nitrate, can also contaminate drinking water supplies drawn from ground water.