DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will gather information about factory farms to determine whether more should be regulated as part of a settlement with environmental groups concerned about water pollution.

The EPA reached the settlement Tuesday with the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club and Waterkeeper Alliance.

The groups filed a federal lawsuit in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans in early 2009, claiming the EPA gave too much discretion to farm operators in determining which farms needed permits to discharge waste into waterways.

The settlement requires the EPA to gather information about factory farms that don't have discharge permits and determine whether they should be regulated.

Natural Resources Defense Council attorney Jon Devine said it could improve pollution control standards for factory farms.

"This settlement puts the EPA on the path to collecting more data about factory farms and it will in turn give us the tools we need to determine which ones are polluting and how best to regulate them," Devine said.

A telephone message left Wednesday for the EPA was not immediately returned.

Ed Hopkins, the director of the Sierra Club's Environmental Quality Program, touted the settlement as a step forward in protecting the nation's waterways.

"Gathering more information to document factory farms' pollution will lay the groundwork for better protection of our waters," he said.

Michael Formica, chief environmental counsel for the National Pork Producers Council, criticized the EPA for making the deal without talking to farmers.

"There was no outreach to the other side," he said. "It was a one-sided sweetheart deal."

Formica said the settlement conflicts with multiple court decisions and if implemented, would lead to a larger concentration of livestock as pork producers grow their herds to offset the costs of manure management systems the EPA could require.

"It will lead to a greater concentration and more factory farms," he said.

Formica also said that while the pork industry has taken steps over the past 15 years to control runoff, other sectors of the livestock industry, such as beef and poultry don't have the same measures in place.

A telephone message left Wednesday for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association was not immediately returned.