Environmental groups petition for better protection of waterways

Move comes after conflict over cattle allowed near trout stream

By: - August 11, 2021 5:33 pm

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

Two environmental groups have petitioned a state panel to protect waterways from threats such as a cattle operation in a geologically sensitive area near a trout stream in northeast Iowa.

The Iowa Environmental Council and Environmental Law & Policy Center have filed a petition for rulemaking with Iowa’s Environmental Protection Commission. They asked the governor-appointed commission to protect drinking water, groundwater, and karst terrain from pollution. 

Those groups and others have tried several political and legal maneuvers to stop Supreme Beef’s planned 11,600-animal cattle feedlot near Monona. The area that will have manure spread on it is near Bloody Run Creek, one of the state’s cold-water trout streams.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has deflected challenges to the Supreme Beef project. Two state lawmakers were involved in the project. One is directly related to one of the principals. 

The commission earlier denied environmentalists’ request to overturn approval of the cattle feedlot.

‘Inadequate protections’

“The Supreme Beef facility exemplifies the inadequate protections of Iowa’s CAFO regulations: the facility should not have been approved by the DNR,” Alicia Vasto, IEC water program associate director, said in a statement. “It was the wrong place to build the facility and it puts Iowa’s drinking and recreational waters at risk.” 

The requested rules would govern animal confinements in sensitive environmental areas. The karst formation in the Bloody Run Creek area is made up of broken rock layers that are prone to pollution. 

The environmental group’s petition also calls for the state to protect drinking water while governing livestock operations. 

“Our current regulations for CAFO construction are not up to the task of protecting Iowans, as evidenced by the recent approval of a massive feedlot in sensitive karst terrain,” Michael Schmidt, IEC staff attorney, said in a statement. “Groundwater can easily be contaminated in karst regions, and our current rules do not protect it. The Environmental Protection Commission needs to start living up to its name and protecting the environment and — in cases such as this — the health of the public.” 

IEC released a report in 2019 finding that many private wells have high concentrations of nitrate and bacteria. 

DNR spokesman Alex Murphy declined to comment.

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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.