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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
After an 11,600-head cattle feedlot was approved near Monona, Iowa environmental groups are trying to keep other large-scale animal confinements out of northeast Iowa.
The Iowa Environmental Council and the Environmental Law & Policy Center have filed a petition for rule making with Iowa’s Environmental Protection Commission to protect drinking water, groundwater and karst terrain.
If passed, the rules would restrict development of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in sensitive landscapes, such as the Driftless area in northeast Iowa, the groups reported.
“We have been concerned about CAFOs for a long time, and we believe Iowa’s regulatory structure is inadequate based on pollution we see in the water,” Michael Schmidt, staff attorney for the Environmental Council, said in a news conference Thursday morning.
Bacteria and harmful algae have caused swim warnings at many Iowa beaches this summer, and 12 percent of Iowa’s private wells exceed safe standards for drinking water, Schmidt said.
Agriculture is the major contributor to excess nitrate and phosphorus in Iowa’s lakes and streams, Schmidt said. With more than 12,000 animal feedlots in the state, there are concerns manure leaking from unlined retention basins will further contaminate drinking water and harm “outstanding” waterways, like trout streams in northeast Iowa.
In April, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources approved the nutrient management plan for the 11,600-head open cattle feedlot owned by Supreme Beef. The facility, which is not yet housing cattle, is in the watershed of Bloody Run Creek, considered an Outstanding Iowa Waterway. The area also has karst topography, which is porous, with limestone close to the surface.
The DNR received dozens of emails and phone calls from people who opposed the project, but senior environmental specialist Brian Jergenson told The Gazette in May regulators were only able to consider information about whether the site’s plans met DNR procedures and requirements.
“This project is not a public opinion project,” he said at the time. “We evaluate it in accordance with the rules of the state. We read the comments and tried to apply them to our two criteria.”
So the environmental groups want stricter rules.
Among the proposed rules would be prohibiting animal feeding operations in areas with less than 5 feet of soil over karst topography. And if a manure retention structure is proposed at less than 25 feet over karst, it would have to be designed by the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
The petition also seeks to have animal feeding operations with earthen manure basins to monitor groundwater to make sure manure isn’t leaking.
The proposed rules only would apply to new feeding operations. The groups have asked for a meeting with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and hope the potential rules could be considered by the commission this fall.
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