Manure water from one of state’s largest cattle feedlots flows into creek

By: - June 13, 2022 5:04 pm

An open cattle feedlot near Willey is the third largest in the state. (Screenshot from Google Maps)

A worker at one of the state’s largest open cattle feedlots pumped too much manure water onto a field, which caused the water to flow into a stream that feeds the Middle Raccoon River, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

Someone who saw the manure water flowing into the stream near Willey in western Iowa reported it to the DNR on Thursday night — too late for the department’s staff to investigate the matter that day, said Claire Asberry, an environmental specialist for the department. On Friday morning, she saw runoff flowing into a tributary of Willey Creek in several locations.

It’s unclear how much manure water flowed into the stream. It was being pumped from a basin that has a capacity of 36 million gallons, said Alison Manz, a senior environmental specialist for the DNR.

The feedlot, owned by Brian Wendl, is the third-largest in the state and can have up to 20,000 cattle, Manz said. Wendl was in Tennessee when the runoff was reported and drove about 900 miles through the night to tend the situation in person.

“When I came back, I met Alison in the field and had a berm up in an hour,” Wendl said.

He described the discharge as minimal. The berm halted the flow of runoff into the stream.

DNR field tests of the stream Friday morning found elevated levels of ammonia near the feedlot that diminished significantly downstream. Manz said steady flows of water from field tile lines diluted the manure water, but it was possible the contamination was more significant Thursday night.

“There could have been a plume that went from there, but we didn’t document a fish kill,” she said. “We didn’t see any impact to the (Middle) Raccoon River.”

The feedlot is in a hilly area of Carroll County and has about 20 sediment basins that capture runoff soil and manure. The liquid part of the runoff is routed to the large basin, from which it is regularly pumped and sprayed onto a nearby field.

“The ground was already saturated when they turned those irrigators on,” Asberry said. “It’s kind of a recipe for runoff.”

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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.