Capital Clicks

Farm co-op fined $6,000 for ammonia discharge

By: - October 19, 2021 5:23 pm

Iowa farmers are expected to see reduced effects of high fertilizer prices. (Photo courtesy of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln)

A farmers’ cooperative in northeast Iowa has agreed to pay a fine of $6,000 for an illegal discharge of ammonia last year into a drainage ditch that flows into a creek that feeds the Turkey River.

A fisherman noticed dead fish where the creek meets the river near Elkader on July 18, 2020, and a subsequent state investigation determined the source of the pollution was pooled rainwater in a storage area at Three Rivers FS Company that was contaminated by anhydrous ammonia.

An unknown quantity of the fertilizer — which is highly attracted to water — might have leaked from storage tanks there, possibly during transfer to other containers, said Jessica Ragsdale, an environmental specialist for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

“The ammonia just finds water and goes into it,” Ragsdale said. “They thought they were testing it properly and thought it was clean and good to go.”

Three Rivers employees routinely pumped rainwater and snow melt from the anhydrous storage area onto a gravel-covered area, according to a DNR administrative order dated Sept. 28. From there, the water flowed to a culvert, a drainage ditch, a creek and, finally, the river. The state stocks the Turkey River with trout.

A test of water in the drainage ditch three days after the fish kill found high concentrations of ammonia nitrogen of 40 parts per million at the culvert. The safety threshold for drinking water is .05 parts per million.

Ragsdale said farmers’ cooperatives typically transfer stormwater from anhydrous storage areas onto land that doesn’t immediately drain into a waterway to avoid polluting them. She said Three Rivers has since adopted that safer practice.

Chad Keehner, manager of the Three Rivers location in Elkader, declined to comment for this article.

Three Rivers agreed to pay $6,000 to settle the matter but did not admit to or deny the conclusions of the investigation, according to the administrative order.

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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.