Critics: Northeast Iowa cattle operation threatens trout streams

By: - March 1, 2021 7:50 pm

Environmental groups continue to fight a cattle operation planned near a trout stream in northeast Iowa. (Photo by Michael Yero via Unsplash)

Proposed manure applications from a Monona-area cattle operation would threaten Bloody Run Creek and other trout streams in the area, critics said Monday.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources held a public meeting on Supreme Beef’s proposed manure management plan. 

A string of speakers accused the company of making errors in its calculations that would result in over-application of manure. 

Bloody Run Creek is one of the state’s designated “high quality waters” in part because it had naturally reproducing brown trout. Supreme Beef’s now-expanded 11,600-head cattle operation is near the headwaters of the stream. 

Most of the cold-water streams in Iowa are in that part of the state. 

Investigators could not pinpoint the cause of a fish kill in Bloody Run last year. The stream is one of Iowa’s top draws for people who fish for trout.

Sierra Club, which opposed the manure management plan, noted on its website that since 2017, Supreme Beef has regularly been in trouble with DNR inspectors. The agency eventually assessed two separate $10,000 fines and signed two court agreements aimed at reducing threats to water quality in the area. 

Asked by DNR officials to outline the proposed manure management plan, co-owner Jared Walz of Supreme Beef LLC instead offered blessings for those attending the virtual meeting. 

“I really don’t have much to say,” Walz said. “I just want to thank you for your time and your support and thoughts and your prayers for planning for our site. God bless and hopefully everybody has a wonderful evening.”

Michael Schmidt, staff attorney for the nonprofit Iowa Environmental Council, said the manure-management plan is flawed in multiple ways. It calls for overapplication of manure, doesn’t list conservation practices as required, and will “pose a threat to water quality in the region,” Schmidt said. 

Larry Stone, who lives near the Turkey River at Elkader and is a member of the Clayton County Conservation Board, said Supreme Beef also failed to submit plans for erosion control. The area involved has what geologists call “karst,” which is a leaky terrain of eroded limestone and other rock that is highly susceptible to groundwater pollution and includes caves. 

Supreme Beef has said it would spread manure in a 30-mile area, but Stone and others said that would be uneconomical, which could mean too much is applied closer to the cattle operation.

Wallace Taylor, lawyer for the Iowa Chapter of Sierra Club, said the company does not have the type of storage listed in the application and should be regulated as an open feedlot.

DNR plans to accept written comments through March 8 and will decide on the manure management plan application by April 2. Comments may be sent to Kelli Book at [email protected]

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Perry Beeman
Perry Beeman

Perry Beeman has nearly 40 years of experience in Iowa journalism and has won national awards for environmental and business writing. He has written for The Des Moines Register and the Business Record, where he also served as managing editor. He also is former editorial director of Grinnell College. He co-authored the recently published book, "The $80 Billion Gamble," which details the lottery-rigging case of Eddie Tipton.