Four Ways the DNR Can Strengthen New Factory Farm Pollution Rule

Four Things DNR Can Do Right Now To Strengthen Draft Clean Water Act Rule To Protect Iowa’s Water From Factory Farm Pollution


After months of writing new rule proposal with corporate ag industry input, 28-day public comment begins tomorrow, April 16, ends May 13


Nearly two dozen members of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI) members attended an Environmental Protection Commission (EPC) meeting April 15 to lay out four concrete steps the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) can take to strengthen a draft Clean Water Act rule giving state regulators the authority to permit factory farm polluters so the industry is forced to play by stronger environmental standards.

A 28-day public comment period on the draft rule proposal begins tomorrow, April 16, and ends May 13, and will include six public hearings in Mason City, Spencer, Carroll, Des Moines, Calmar, and Ainsworth.  Iowa CCI members have criticized the process that has led to this point and say both Governor Terry Branstad and DNR Director Chuck Gipp have prioritized the interests of big-moneyed corporate ag lobby groups ahead of everyday people and the environment.

“I’ve raised hogs and farmed all my life and what Governor Branstad’s DNR is allowing these out of state factory farm corporations to do to our water quality is shameful,” said Larry Ginter, a CCI member and independent family farmer from Rhodes, Iowa.  “This rule has to be stronger, because this hands-off, bare minimum approach of the Branstad Administration hasn’t worked in the past and it will not work in the future.”

Iowa CCI members say the draft Clean Water Act rule granting the DNR new permitting powers over factory farm polluters can be strengthened in four major ways:

1)       The rule should clearly state that all factory farm polluters must receive a Clean Water Act permit that forces them to abide by stronger environmental standards or get shut down.  Both Minnesota and Wisconsin require all factory farms to obtain federal operating permits.

2)      The rule should include a “three strikes and you’re out” provision for habitual violators so Iowans can shut down the worst of the worst polluters.

3)      The rule should clearly state that factory farm polluters have a “duty to apply” and that the burden of proof assuring pollution will not happen again lies with the polluter, not the DNR or the people of Iowa.

4)      The rule should require the DNR to build a comprehensive, user-friendly, online database of manure spills, Clean Water Act inspections, and permitting, so that everyday Iowans can audit the DNR’s inspections and permitting decisions and hold them accountable if they continue to kowtow to the factory farm industry.

One CCI member in attendance, Jean Lappe, drove more than three hours from Morning Sun, Iowa near the Louisa and Des Moines county borders to speak out against proposed plans by Cargill to build 13 new factory farms within 2 miles of her home.  In her testimony, she used the acronym CAFO, which stands for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation, another term for factory farm.

“How am I supposed to live with 13 CAFOs within 2 miles of my home?” Lappe asked the EPC commissioners.

There have been at least 728 documented manure spills since 1996 and Iowa currently has at least 630 polluted waterways, according to DNR records.  Some researchers have found that manure from factory farm lagoons is leaking at more than twice the rate allowed by law, and it’s anyone’s guess how many times rainwater, floods, or melting snow have run freshly spread liquid manure off of farmland and into rivers, lakes, and streams.

Des Moines Water Works has also reported some ammonia problems already this Spring that the water utility says “often” comes from “livestock operations” and “manure-fertilized fields”.  Last year, Des Moines Water Works spent nearly $1 million removing nitrates from drinking water drawn from the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers.

Factory farm expansion is also up, with nearly one thousand of the state’s 8,500 factory farms being built since January 1, 2012.   A conservative estimate finds that Iowa’s 21 million hogs produce between five and ten billion gallons of toxic manure every year.

Iowa CCI is a statewide, grassroots people’s action group that uses community organizing to win public policy that puts communities before corporations and people before profits, politics, and polluters.