Iowans Demand EPA Return To Iowa To Force Factory Farm Compliance With The Clean Water Act



According to DNR records there have been at least five factory farm spills that reached Iowa waterways in the past three weeks:

  • FISH KILL: Osceola & Clay County – factory farm egg washing liquid dumped in Stony Creek polluting 18.2 miles of stream and killing 163,001 fish
  • FISH KILL: Cherokee County – Bear Creek, source unknown
  • FISH KILL: Buchanan County – factory farm manure overflowed from manure pit and entered West Branch Pine Creek
  • Mahaska County – valve on manure tank failed and 3,000 gallons of factory farm manure entered a tributary of the Skunk River
  • FISH KILL: Allamakee County – manure application equipment broke and 1,000 gallons of factory farm manure entered Clark Creek



Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (CCI) members are outraged at the number of manure spills occurring in Iowa each year during what many call “manure spill season.”

“Right now, as crops are being harvested, thousands of factory farms across the state are starting to spread upwards of 10 billion gallons of toxic, untreated manure on Iowa farmland,” said Rosie Partridge, conservationist and small business owner in Wall Lake, Iowa. “We’re seeing equipment breaks, pits overflow, and careless practices like spreading manure on highly erodible land, on steep slopes and near waterways.  At what point is there too much manure in Iowa?  I think we passed that point a long time ago.”

CCI members say the DNR needs to start holding this industry accountable for polluting Iowa’s waterways.

“In 2012 the EPA investigated the DNR and found that the DNR has an inadequate inspection program, fails to respond to spills, and does not issue fines and penalties that deter future pollution,” said Larry Ginter, a retired family farmer from Rhodes, Iowa. “It’s 2015 and nothing has changed. The EPA needs to come back to Iowa and make the DNR implement the Clean Water Act with teeth.”

Like the Des Moines Water Works lawsuit, CCI members want the DNR to implement and enforce the Clean Water Act for factory farms. CCI members believe that Clean Water Act permits, tough fines and penalties and on-site inspections that find and fix problems will drastically reduce the amount of manure polluting Iowa’s waterways each year.

“We’re sick and tired of corporate agriculture being exempt from any laws and regulations meant to protect people and the environment; they should be held to the same standards as every other industry in Iowa,” said Ginter. “Isn’t it obvious that voluntary doesn’t work?”

CCI members will be meeting with the DNR on November 3 to address the lack of enforcement and regulation of Manure Management Plans and application.

Iowa’s more than 20 million hogs confined in thousands of factory farms produce nearly ten billion gallons of toxic manure every year. There have been more than 800 documented manure spills since 1996 and Iowa currently has more than 725 polluted waterways.


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2 Years Since Historic Clean Water Act Agreement And Still No Permits For Hog Factory Farms


Des Moines, IA.  In early August Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) submitted its 2-year progress report of the precedent-setting Work Plan Agreement between the DNR and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to implement the Clean Water Act (CWA) for factory farms in Iowa. Iowa CCI is calling out the DNR for the lack of detail in the report about the outcome of DNR inspections and why no Clean Water Act permits have been issued.

Click here to view DNR’s 2015 Clean Water Act Annual Progress Report.

“This is an absolute disgrace.  We’ve been saying for 8 years that the DNR is failing to do its job to hold factory farms accountable for their pollution and sadly we’re proven right,” said Larry Ginter, CCI member and family farmer from Rhodes, Iowa.  “We’ve already had at least 17 manure spills this year.  If DNR was completing good inspections, you’d think the number of manure spills would go down significantly each year, but it doesn’t.”

The DNR agreed to assess twenty percent of Iowa’s 8,500+ factory farm facilities each year to determine which operations need permits.  The 2-year progress report states they have completed 41% over the past two years.

The DNR touts the number of inspections as a success but CCI members think otherwise.

“It’s not just about the quantity of inspections – it’s about the quality of inspections,”  said Ginter.  “Who cares how many you’ve completed if they don’t result in anything but more pollution?”

The Work Plan also required the DNR to “timely issue [Clean Water Act] permits that meet federal requirements to all CAFOs that DNR determines discharge to Waters of the U.S.”

According to DNR records, since the Work Plan was signed on September 11, 2013 there have been at least 99 documented manure spills in Iowa yet the DNR failed to issue a single Clean Water Act permit to any of the polluting hog factory farms.

Barb Lynch, DNR Chief of Field Services and Compliance was quoted saying ‘Since the majority of larger facilities in Iowa are confinements, with animals housed under a roof and state law requiring manure containment, most facilities we inspect do not have problems with manure runoff’.

However, water data collected from Iowa’s 2014 list of impaired waterways shows manure as one of the leading cause of impaired waterways in Iowa lakes and rivers.  CCI members say this and the fact the DNR has issued no CWA permits shows how the DNR continues to work for factory farm corporations by misleading the public about the cause of Iowa’s polluted waterways and not holding them accountable for the pollution they create.

Also, CWA permits aren’t just targeted at runoff problems, they are for any kind of pollution discharge leaving a facility.

“We see dozens of cases of factory farms with multiple manure spills,” said Barb Kalbach, 4th generation family farmer from Dexter.  “Any factory farm that has a discharge needs a CWA permit and needs to be held accountable, not just a slap on the wrist.”

Another demand of the DNR to meet the Clean Water Act Work Plan is “to implement enforcement program that ensures penalties are sought in accordance with DNR’s [Enforcement Management System] and creates a stronger deterrent to noncompliance”.

In the past 2 years, DNR has only issued 23 Administrative Orders and 1 Attorney General referral against factory farm polluters with manure spills or other violations.  That means out of the 99 polluters, 75 of them received no meaningful penalty for their manure spill.  CCI members believe that the lack of penalties sends a message to the industry that manure spills are just a cost of doing business.

DNR is also failing to meet the final Work Plan requirement, which is to keep the public informed of its Work Plan progress.  So far the Work Plan progress updates have been vague and contain very little real information. The annual report lacks detail about the outcome of inspections and why no Clean Water Act permits have been issued to a hog factory farm.

“The 2-year report lacks detail,” said Kalbach. “DNR provided no detail on the outcome of assessments and how they determined that a factory farm does not need a CWA permit. The DNR needs to take a presumption that every factory farm has a potential to discharge and therefore every factory farm has the duty to apply for a permit.”

“This Work Plan will only be successful if it leads to real oversight of factory farm pollution in Iowa. That means serious inspections, strong permits, and enforcement actions that ensure it doesn’t pay to pollute. DNR hasn’t shown that it takes permitting seriously, and EPA should step in and conduct independent investigations of Iowa manure spills,” said Jess Mazour, Farm & Environment Organizer at Iowa CCI.

CCI members are calling on the DNR to strengthen the Clean Water Act implementation with four demands:

  1. Issue a Clean Water Act Permit to every factory farm in Iowa.
  2. Complete quality on-site inspections that find problems and fix problems.
  3. Issue tough fines and penalties that deter future pollution.
  4. Create a transparent database of manure spills, inspections and details of specific factory farms.

Iowa’s more than 20 million hogs confined in thousands of factory farms produce nearly ten billion gallons of toxic manure every year.  There have been more than 800 documented manure spills since 1996 and Iowa currently has more than 725 polluted waterways.


CCI Member, Ray Harden, from Perry, Iowa wrote an excellent piece about the Des Moines Water Works Lawsuit and the new dirty water attack ad.  Check it out!




The T.V. commercial opposing the Des Moines Waterworks legal action against  three county drainage districts in northwest Iowa has misleading statements. The commercial gives the impression that individual farmers are being sued, this is incorrect.  The legal action is against drainage districts, not farmers or landowners.  Under Iowa law the drainage districts are run by the county supervisors, they are responsible for operating and maintaining the drainage district system.

The Des Moines Waterworks (DMWW) is saying that the districts are allowing water that contains known  pollutants to be discharged into Iowa’s waterways via a drainage ditch is a “point source of pollution” and should be regulated by the Federal Clean Water Act.  The discharge from the drainage ditches should be treated the same way as a discharge from a municipal sewage facility.  DMWW wants drainage districts to be regulated and be required to have a permit for discharge.  This is what the courts will decide.

The most egregious  statement made in the T.V. commercial is: ” Currently Iowa’s rivers are the cleanest they have been in twenty years.”  The Iowa Clean Water Alliance does not provide any data to backup this claim regarding water quality.  It is ironic that the statement was made the same week that the Iowa Department of Natural Resources reported Iowa’s

“Impaired Bodies of Water” has increased 15% in the last two years- there are now 725 bodies of water on the list (Des Moines Register May 15).  The North Raccoon River, that flows through Dallas County, is one the most polluted.

The “Clean Water Alliance” does not provide any data to backup this statement regarding water quality.  I am not seeing the rivers getting cleaner.   I do a monthly nitrate test on three drainage tiles that flow into a creek near Perry.  From late winter to May  these three tiles have consistently had nitrate reading of 15mgm per liter to 20mgm per liter.  More that 10mgm per liter is not considered to be safe in drinking water.

I did nitrate tests on the waters of the North Raccoon River, from Greene County to Dallas County on a recent canoe trip and found similar nitrate readings.    The river’s color is also a sign of water quality- the river was a chocolate brown, indicating a lot of soil erosion.  The soil washing into the streams carries fertilizer, manure, and other undesirable chemicals that have a harmful effect on wildlife and humans.

It has been many years since I have caught a walleye or smallmouth bass in the Raccoon River- fish that need clean water.  It has been equally as long since I have see a live mussel or clam in the river; they are dying because of nitrates in the water.  Where is the clean water the commercial is referring to?

I am pleased the Des Moines Water Works is moving forward with the lawsuit.  This action will bring more focus to the problem and hopefully the Iowa Legislature and governor will provide more funds for agricultural conservation practices and regulations to improve Iowa’s water quality.


Ray Harden

Perry, Iowa


 Join the Fight

  • Factory farm proposing to build near you? Have concerns about an existing facility? We can work with you and your community to fight back and stand up for clean air and water and your quality of life.

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Clean Water Act (CWA) permits hold factory farms to higher standards and it can shut them down!  As of today, the DNR has not issued a single Clean Water Act permit to a hog factory farm in Iowa.

Here’s why Clean Water Act permits can be game-changers as we build a farming system that works for People and the Planet!

  • Broader coverage of enforcement
    • CWA permits must prevent discharges from the production area as well as land application areas. Iowa’s Manure Management Plans (MMPs) only address land application areas.
  • More transparency
    • When permits are proposed the public must be given notice of the proposed permit and an opportunity to comment on it. NPDES permits, and all associated reports, must be publicly accessible.
  • Fixed terms
    • Unlike Iowa’s MMPs, CWA permits have fixed five-year terms. That way, they are subject to being reviewed, updated, or terminated on a regular basis. DNR admitted in an Ag Appropriations Sub-Committee this year that DNR does not review MMPs because they do not have the capacity to do so.
  • Operation & maintenance requirements
    • CWA permits have operation and maintenance requirements so that factory farm operators prevent problems before they happen. Currently, factory farm owners may have to fix a problem after a discharge, but aren’t required to use basic practices that would prevent many discharges in the first place.
  • Higher penalties for violations
    • State law caps penalties at $5,000 per day per violation and the state cannot collect more than $10,000 per violation. Under the CWA, penalties are up to $37,500 per day per violation, which would include penalties for discharges or other violations of a permit. Higher penalties mean greater deterrence from pollution. When facilities have NPDES permits, permit violations are also CWA violations that can warrant these heightened penalties, even if the violation does not cause a discharge to a surface water.

If you think the Iowa DNR should start issuing Clean Water Act permits to polluters, join the fight!


Join the Fight

Factory farm proposing to build near you? Have concerns about an existing facility? We can work with you and your community to fight back and stand up for clean air and water and your quality of life.


As of January 22nd, 2015 fifteen counties still need to submit their Master Matrix resolutions to the DNR by January 31st, 2015! Those counties are:




Des Moines












SKMBT_42315012218420One of the tools that communities have in the fight against unwanted factory farms is the Master Matrix, a scoring system for proposed sites that the builder must pass. The Master Matrix is an imperfect tool, but it provides communities with a minimal level of protection against factory farms being built in their communities. In addition, if the county chooses to use the Master Matrix, then applicants must meet stricter environmental standards than they would have to meet otherwise.

However, each county Board of Supervisors must pass the Master Matrix each year before January 31st. So far, 84 counties have passed the Master Matrix. Below, you’ll find all these counties shaded in green (click the image to make it larger).

*NOTE* If you know that your county’s Board of Supervisors has passed the Master Matrix and it’s not reflected on this map the reason is that we have not yet received confirmation from the DNR that they have received your county’s resolution. The DNR updates us directly one to two times per week for the month of January. Your supervisors need to have it postmarked to the DNR by January 31st, 2015!*

 3 simple steps to passing the Master Matrix in your county

1) Call your County Supervisors and ask them to put it on the next Supervisor meeting agenda if they haven’t already;

2) If they have passed the Master Matrix, make sure they sent a copy to the DNR – they have to do  this before  January 31st or it doesn’t count.

Your County Supervisors should mail it to:

Jerah Sheets, IDNR, 502 East 9th Street, Des Moines, IA 50319-0034


Fax it to (515) 725 – 8202

3) Call CCI at 515-282-0484 and let us know so we can keep track and make sure every county passes the  Master Matrix!

If you live in any of the above counties in orange and you care about protecting your air, water, and quality of life, call Carrie at Iowa CCI at (515) 282-0484 to find out how you can get your supervisors to pass the matrix today!


Join the Fight

Factory farm proposing to build near you? Have concerns about an existing facility? We can work with you and your community to fight back and stand up for clean air, clean water, and your quality of life.


In the past two weeks alone, we attended an Environmental Protection Commission (EPC) meeting, met with officials from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Attorney General’s office, and the Director of the DNR, Chuck Gipp.

All of these meetings focused on pushing the DNR to use the new Clean Water Act Rule by issuing Clean Water Act permits to factory farm polluters – our people power is paying off!


Meeting with the EPA


CCI leaders sat down with top staff from US Environmental Protection Agency Region 7 from Kansas City, after they reached out to us before their scheduled visit with the DNR. Iowa CCI leaders updated EPA on our work to push the DNR to implement the Clean Water Act in Iowa for factory farms. Members laid out the facts:

  • The DNR has failed to issue a single Clean Water Act permit.  Since the Clean Water Act work plan passed in September 2013, there have been 74 documented manure spills, 15 manure spills that reached water, and at least 12 emergency application exemptions. The DNR should start off 2015 on the right foot by permitting these polluters.
  • The DNR has not changed the way it issues fines and penalties.  Since the Clean Water Act work plan passed in September 2013 only 13 of the 74 manure spills have received a fine or penalty.  The DNR needs to do more to deter future pollution by levying stiff fines and penalties to polluters.
  • The DNR only completed inspections on 14% of the factory farms in Iowa.  We’ve seen many manure spills happen shortly after an inspection was completed, or spills at a factory farm that hasn’t been inspected in many years. The DNR needs to ensure that inspections find problems, fix problems, and lead to permits.
  • The DNR databases have inaccurate information, contradict each other and/or lack important details, and we’re concerned about the transparency of the Clean Water Act implementation process. The DNR needs to keep the public fully informed every step of the way.

After powerful personal testimonies about our members’ experiences fighting factory farms, living with the impacts of factory farms in both rural and urban areas, and our assessment of the DNR’s progress, we shared a great conversation with the folks from the EPA.

We heard the EPA voicing some of the same concerns regarding DNR’s training of inspectors across the state, about the determinations that DNR has come to (and also by the fact that no permits have been issued!) We agreed to follow up again on the DNR’s progress next year.

Meeting with the DNR


A team of 3 CCI leaders, assisted by 3 of our attorneys from the Environmental Integrity Project and Food & Water Watch, sat down with DNR Director Chuck Gipp and his key staff charged with implementing the Clean Water Act in Iowa for factory farms. We laid out the same information and concerns we presented to the EPA, and had a 90 minute discussion on what it will actually take for the DNR to start issuing permits and crack down on factory farm polluters to clean up our water.

The Good:

In response to our concerns about inspections, the DNR acknowledged they need to continue training inspectors at the field offices around the state to ensure that inspections are consistent and comprehensive. Over the course of the meeting, the DNR acknowledged that they are open to issuing permits to factory farms that pollute waterways. They are more consistently issuing fines to polluters when manure spills reach waterways. And DNR staff agreed to get us the information we are looking for, and to work with us to make sure that this information is readily available to the public in a way that is easy to understand. They were open to supporting some of our legislative proposals for the 2015 session as well.

Could be better:

We have a lot more work to do. It is clear that even though DNR is more open to permitting factory farm polluters, they have set a very high bar for what kind of factory farm will need a permit. We will need to continue to push the DNR to permit all factory farms, and we must remain vigilant in monitoring their implementation to ensure that they:

  • continue to deter polluters with stiff fines and penalties to all manure spills, not just those that reach a waterway
  • are consistently performing inspections that find and fix problems at factory farms
  • issue Clean Water Act permits to factory farms

What’s Next:

We’ll continue to keep the pressure on Iowa’s DNR to implement the Clean Water Act and crack down on factory farms. We’ll kick off 2015 on all fronts:

  • pushing our People & Planet First policies for Clean Water at the Iowa Statehouse;
  • Staying in front of the DNR & EPC, demanding action on manure spills and permitting
  • Working with the Iowa Attorney General’s office, reaching out to the US Attorney’s office, and working with our own attorneys to file precedent setting lawsuits against factory farm polluters that would result in stiff fines and penalties and Clean Water Act permits as part of a favorable judgment.

We’ll be busy in the new year, and we can’t do it alone. That’s why we’ll be calling on you to help us build the people power necessary to continue organizing, and to win.

Meeting with the AG


Nearly 40 CCI members and staff met at the Hoover Building meeting with the Iowa Attorney General’s office. We were joined by our legal partners from Food and Water Watch and The Environmental Integrity Project, Michele Merkle and Scott Edwards, and Tarah Heinzen respectively.

  • CCI member Deborah Bunka provided a brief history of CCI’s work and resulting impact on clean water policy in Iowa. She provided key dates and their events going back a few years and leading up to now, over a year since implementing the Clean Water Act for factory farms and still not seeing a single permit issued to a factory farm polluter. Deborah also spoke about the DNR’s lack of quality inspections and transparency of information on manure spills that have already occurred.

CCI member Rosie Partridge laid out our demands, plain and simple: When the DNR won’t crack down on polluters, we want the AG’s office to step in and do it.

We laid out our legislative agenda for the 2015 session:

  • An end to the “no more stringent than” law that declares that a state’s law cannot be harsher or “more stringent” than federal law. Federal law needs to be a floor – not a ceiling.
  • An increased maximum fine amount that the DNR has the authority to issue to factory farm polluters. The current maximum of $10,000 is not enough to deter polluters, as they only consider it to be a cost of doing business as usual which is why our waterways are more polluted than ever.
  • Iowa’s “habitual violator law” needs to be updated to include Administrative Orders, not just action taken by the Attorney General. Many confined animal feeding operations are habitual violators but are not currently classified as such due to the exclusion of AOs in their history.
  • Our team of lawyers brought up the Smithfield Agreement and Packer Ban, as well as producer protection, which lead to some impassioned statements from CCI members Larry Ginter and Chris Petersen.

Our hope for this meeting was to educate the AG’s staff about the state of Iowa’s water and the DNR’s near-complete failure to enforce the Clean Water Act. We want to ignite them on this issue enough so that they exercise their independent filing authority against factory farm polluters.

Our take away was hopeful, with Eric Tabor sharing with us that with it being Attorney General Tom Miller’s last term in office he is looking to make some lasting impressions on the people of Iowa, which he mentioned includes action for Iowa’s water.

We will be following up with the AG office in the coming weeks to share with them information we have on the past year’s manure spills that the DNR has failed to provide to them.


Learn more


Join the Fight

Factory farm proposing to build near you? Have concerns about an existing facility? We can work with you and your community to fight back and stand up for clean air and water and your quality of life.