Cattle farmer fined twice in three years for creek contamination

By: - December 9, 2021 12:06 pm

Manure-laden water leaked from a detention pond in northwest Iowa this spring and killed 13,000 fish in a nearby creek. (Creative Commons photo via Pxhere)

A northwest Iowa cattle farmer repeatedly allowed manure-laden water to escape from a detention basin near his feedlots this year, which polluted a creek and its tributary and killed about 13,000 small fish.

Lou Pick, of rural Remsen, has agreed to pay fines of nearly $9,000 for the most-recent infraction that resulted in the fish kill, according to an Iowa Department of Natural Resources administrative consent order.

A passerby reported in April that Whiskey Creek was colored bronze and smelled like manure at a location about 30 miles northeast of Sioux City. The creek does not immediately flow into any major waterway.

DNR tests of the creek revealed significant bacterial and ammonia contaminations.

Jacob Simonsen, an environmental specialist for the DNR, traced the contamination to Pick’s cattle operation in the 47700 block of 180th Street, which has nearly 4,000 of the animals. Pick had been pumping water from the basin — which collects stormwater runoff — to dispose of it elsewhere, but the pump failed.

“This happened over Easter weekend,” Simonsen said. “The story I got was that he was pumping it and was in a rush to get to church and didn’t check it that morning.”

Pick did not respond to request to comment for this article. He does business as LCNJ Farms.

Contaminated water flowed from the basin into a ditch, where it traveled about a quarter mile west into Whiskey Creek. The resulting deaths of minnows in the creek was apparent for more than a mile downstream.

It was the second time the DNR has fined Pick for a manure discharge. He paid $7,000 in 2018 for contaminated water that escaped from the same detention basin but flowed east to a tributary of Whiskey Creek, according to another DNR administrative order.

That order noted that state and federal environmental officials had previously warned Pick in 2011 and 2014 that the detention basin might potentially leak into nearby public waterways.

“It’s possible that it wasn’t caught before,” Simonsen said of other leaks.

As part of the 2018 agreement, the basin was modified to help prevent future waterway contaminations. When it fills, Pick pumps out the manure water and applies it to nearby land where it won’t flow into a creek.

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Jared Strong
Jared Strong

Senior reporter Jared Strong has written about Iowans and the important issues that affect them for more than 15 years, previously for the Carroll Times Herald and the Des Moines Register. His investigative work exposing police misconduct has notched several state and national awards. He is a longtime trustee of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, which fights for open records and open government. He is a lifelong Iowan and has lived mostly in rural western parts of the state.

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