Two Midwest environmental groups are petitioning the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission for rule changes that would make it harder for livestock operations to be built in environmentally sensitive areas of the state.
The Iowa Environmental Council and Environmental Law & Policy Center filed the petition Wednesday, calling on the state agency to adopt stricter rules governing where livestock producers can build confined animal feeding operations, called CAFOs, in sensitive landscapes.
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources, named in the petition, declined to comment. The Iowa DNR is responsible for enforcing the animal feeding operation rules the Environmental Protection Commission sets.
The groups, which have requested a meeting with state officials, said Thursday they expect the commission will consider the petition within a couple of months.
Environmental groups have pushed the state to stop the operation of Supreme Beef, a large cattle feedlot in northeast Iowa, saying it threatens nearby Bloody Run Creek, a cold-water trout stream that’s among 34 waterways and lakes designated as Outstanding Iowa Waters.
“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, the Iowa Environmental Council’s 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,” Vasto said.
The groups said the area’s hilly, karst topography, with fractured and porous limestone below the soil, allows water to move quickly, carrying contaminants that can be carried into surface waters and aquifers.
In addition to increasing protections for sensitive landscapes, the petition calls for requiring producers to install pollution-monitoring systems near new CAFOs that store manure in earthen pits rather than in lined or concrete structures, which prevent contaminants from leaching into the surrounding soil.
The groups said rapid expansion of animal feeding operations has led to new feedlots being built in northeast Iowa, where most of the state’s “Outstanding Iowa Waters” are located.
“The fact that these high-quality waters are located in karst terrain and are more vulnerable to pollution further necessitates preventing CAFO siting in these areas,” the groups said in the petition. “The DNR’s recent approval of a large CAFO in the area led to widespread public outcry and poses a threat to multiple Outstanding Iowa Waters.”
The groups said that as of 2019, Iowa had about 12,000 feeding operations, with 3,963 of them large facilities — about five times as many as in 1990.
The groups said many residents in northeast Iowa get their drinking water from private wells at risk of contamination with high concentrations of nitrates and bacteria from CAFOs,
Farmers use manure from hog, cattle and egg-laying operations to fertilize their fields. They often use equipment that injects hog manure into farmland to prevent it from easily moving into waterways.
The Supreme Beef cattle operation, initially operating under a different name, originally proposed converting manure and food waste into biogas. The company’s plans changed due to financial and legal difficulties.
Donnelle Eller covers agriculture, the environment and energy for the Register. Reach her at [email protected] or 515-284-8457.