State OKs manure-spreading near trout streams

By: - April 5, 2021 11:29 am

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

The state has approved plans for a large northeast Iowa cattle feedlot in an environmentally sensitive area that includes some of the state’s trout streams.

After environmentalists and others objected to Supreme Beef’s plans to raise 11,600 cattle near Monona and spread manure on farm fields within 30 miles, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources approved the plans.

The nonprofit Iowa Environmental Council said it will consider “next steps.” In a statement, the council said DNR’s approval of the manure-spreading plans shows the state’s emphasis on animal agriculture over concerns about water quality. 

According to its website, DNR “carries out state and federal laws that protect air, land and water through technical assistance, permitting and compliance programs.” The agency’s mission is “to conserve and enhance our natural resources in cooperation with individuals and organizations to improve the quality of life in Iowa and ensure a legacy for future generations.”

The environmental council questioned DNR’s actions in this case.

“IDNR’s refusal to disapprove the plan submitted by Supreme Beef shows the sad state of affairs in Iowa when it comes to animal feeding operations. State laws and the DNR both prioritize new concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) over protecting our streams, rivers, and lakes,” council attorney Michael Schmidt said in a statement.

“This example shows how far we have to go to protect the resources Iowans rely on and enjoy. The Iowa Environmental Council engaged with DNR and local residents about this facility in several ways and we will evaluate next steps,” Schmidt added.

DNR classifies Bloody Run Creek as an “outstanding Iowa water.” That designation is reserved for the cleanest of Iowa’s rivers and streams and requires added protections for them.

The council’s water program director, Ingrid Gronstal, said DNR now is threatening Bloody Run Creek, which is in an area with multiple trout streams.

“If IDNR can approve this facility, which is located in sensitive karst topography, in the watershed of an ‘outstanding Iowa water’ and important cold water trout streams, then current Iowa laws and regulations provide no protection of the public interest and exist solely to rubber stamp livestock industry interests. We look forward to working with our members and others to improve Iowa’s (animal confinement) policy,” Gronstal said in a statement.  

Environmentalists and others had objected to Supreme Beef’s plans near Bloody Run Creek, a popular trout-fishing spot.

Many of the complaints at a hearing were over the prospect of over application of manure in an area that features karst formations. Those feature leaky eroded layers of limestone that make the groundwater susceptible to pollution. 

DNR approved the spreading of manure on all but two of the 45 proposed farm fields. The council noted the area where manure will be spread is “known for its stunning topography and unique, tourism-driving trout streams.”

In its April 2 letter to the company approving the manure management plan, DNR noted that some soil data did not meet state rules and must be updated and resubmitted by Feb. 1. The state also noted that the company would need a permit for any runoff into a stream, and must keep records of all manure applications for five years.

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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.