Process Waste Spill At Cargill Packing Plant in Ottumwa More Proof That SE Iowa Doesn’t Need Any More Factory Farms


Iowa CCI members near Unionsville and Blakesberg are fighting three proposed Parks Finishing Factory Farms Whose Hogs Will Be Slaughtered At Cargill’s Ottumwa Plant

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI) members fighting three proposed factory farms near the Appanoose and Davis County line are saying that a process waste spill at a Cargill packing plant in Ottumwa is more proof that Southeast Iowa doesn’t need any more factory farms polluting Iowa waterways.

The Iowa DNR reported March 5 that the Cargill Meat Solutions Plant in Ottumwa dumped 20,000 gallons of process wastewater – blood, manure, and other waste products from the slaughter of hogs – into a storm sewer line that drains into the Des Moines River.

The spill occurred on March 3.  The Ottumwa, Iowa plant has capacity for processing 18,500 hogs a day. It was briefly shut down last month due to a break in a nearby water main.

If Cargill can’t handle the amount of hogs they are slaughtering now without spilling waste and polluting our water, then they shouldn’t be allowed to build more factory farms that will only make the problem worse,” said Jim Ealy, a member from Unionville who has organized dozens of members of his rural neighborhood community to stand up and fight back against the proposed new factory farms.

Ealy and other members have protested twice at Cargill’s Ottumwa facility in the last 8 weeks, including at the on-site offices of Cargill subsidiary, Parks Finishing.  The group has also held large-group meetings with the Davis County supervisors and the Iowa DNR.  Community members have also met with local-area legislators at community forums in Ottumwa and at the state capitol in Des Moines.

On February 25, the Cargill facility in Eddyville spread thousands of gallons of Ag-lime by-product and waste water onto a snow-covered farm field, which will likely runoff when temperatures rise this week alongside potential rain, but DNR and Iowa Department of Ag and Land Stewardship officials say the application of process waste onto snow-covered fields was legal, even though Cargill’s Eddyville facility did not have a current, up-to-date certification to apply this waste product on farm ground.

In November of 2013, a Maschhoff Pork Sow Unit outside of Keosauqua also had a manure spill of several thousand gallons into a tributary of the Des Moines river downstream from the Cargill plant.  Maschhoff agreed to pay a $10,000 fine and make signifycant engineering changes to their facility in an attempt to avoid a citizen lawsuit under the federal Clean Water Act by Iowa CCI members and allies.

“There’s no question factory farms pose a huge threat to our air, water, and quality of life and there have been a number of impacts to the Des Moines river just the last few months that highlight just how dangerous this industry really is,” Ealy said.

We want Cargill and Parks Finishing to cancel their plans to build more factory farms in Southeast Iowa and ask that the Iowa DNR issue the toughest fine or penalty possible to Cargill for dumping 20,000 gallons of toxic factory farm waste into the Des Moines river,” Ealy continued.

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Branstad Must Approve Draft Clean Water Act Rule So Critical New Factory Farm Enforcement Process Can Continue Moving Forward

The governor’s office is sitting on a draft clean water rule after a flawed economic analysis using figures obtained by the Iowa Farm Bureau claimed the proposal could have a negative job impact

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI) members demand Governor Branstad stop sitting on a proposed Clean Water Act permitting rule for factory farm polluters and give the go-ahead signal to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to formally open up the rule for public comment at the March 18 Environmental Protection Commission (EPC) meeting.

The DNR sent a badly flawed and corporate ag influenced fiscal and jobs impact statement to Branstad’s office on February 19 and requested an up or down decision by the governor by February 26.  The jobs impact statement was compiled by the DNR with the help of the Iowa Farm Bureau and the governor could use the flawed report as an excuse to reject the proposal and ask the DNR to go back and water down or weaken the rule even more than it already is.

An approval by the governor’s office and a formal promulgation of the rule by the EPC on March 18 would then kick off a weeks long public comment process with in-person public hearings in at least six different locations across Iowa.

“Governor Branstad must stop interfering with Clean Water Act enforcement and approve the new factory farm permitting rule so this process can move forward to the public comment period,” said Lori Nelson, the CCI board president from Bayard who is surrounded by more than 5,000 corporate hogs within a half-mile of her rural homestead.

The new permitting rule is a critical piece of Clean Water Act enforcement that has been held up for years, ever since 2011 when a new EPC commission packed with industry insiders by Governor Branstad threw out a previous version of the rule.  But a workplan agreement signed between the DNR and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last September set out clear benchmarks for a new version of the rule to be completed.

There have been more than 600 documented manure spills since 2003 and Iowa currently has at least 630 polluted waterways.  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.

Factory farm expansion is also up, with more than 900 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 more than 5 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.   

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DNR Must Create Transparent, User-Friendly, Online Clean Water Act Database

Easily accessible reports on factory farm inspections and manure spills necessary to ensure DNR is complying with Clean Water Act mandate

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI) members say they have been gathering evidence for months that shows the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is short-changing the implementation of the federal Clean Water Act, but that CCI’s efforts to audit the DNR and hold them accountable are being seriously hampered by a lack of transparent information on factory farm inspections and manure spills.

The DNR still maintains most of its records on paper, in six field offices scattered across the state, and their online databases are obsolete, opaque, full of incorrect and inconsistent information, and not easily accessible.

“DNR Director Chuck Gipp’s position, that Iowans should just drive out to a field office and start randomly digging through 8,500 files looking for this vital information, is not credible and does not serve the public interest,” said Vern Tigges, a CCI member from Adel who farmed most of his life outside of Carroll before moving to town last year to escape the smell of 30,000 corporate hogs surrounding his family farm.

The DNR’s 90-day status report last December to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stated that at least 117 inspections have been completed, without giving any information on which factory farms were inspected, when they were inspected, or where the investigation reports were and what they discovered.

In addition, manure spill records are widely inconsistent, with some databases showing 76 manure spills alone in 2013, and others showing an also high but different number of 51, and it is unclear if the information is inconsistent or tracked using different counting methodologies.

“This is basic information that the people of Iowa absolutely must have, and right now, we don’t.  That’s a real problem, and we demand the DNR modernize their record-keeping and information sharing systems immediately,” Tigges continued.  “We demand transparency.”

Tigges was one of three CCI members who delivered a demand letter to Director Gipp’s offices February 27.  The group spoke with DNR Deputy Director Bruce Trautmann and environmental chief Bill Ehm.

The letter, which may be read here, states “the DNR is a public agency charged with protecting our environment and working for the everyday Iowan.  The lack of accuracy, transparency, and consistency in the DNR databases do not align with those goals.”

The letter continues:  “Iowa CCI members request the DNR create a comprehensive database that combines all the information from field office files, current databases and records from the DNR records center…”

Governor Branstad’s office is sitting on a draft Clean Water Act rule waiting to be officially released for public comment by the DNR’s Environmental Protection Commission.  The governor has to give the go-ahead to the DNR first, but is holding up the proposal because of a flawed jobs impact statement that used Iowa Farm Bureau figures to claim the proposed rule may have a negative job impact.

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TIME FOR SOME ACTION!  Bus-load of CCI Members To Stand Up For Clean Water During Tuesday’s EPC Meeting

Members have ordered a bus to accommodate the large number of people from across Iowa scheduled to drive into Des Moines February 17 for a Clean Water Day of Action starting at 10:30am at the monthly Environmental Protection Commission Meeting (EPC) held at the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR’s) Air Quality Control building, 7900 Hickman Road.

Members say they will present case studies of factory farm pollution across Iowa that is not being addressed by the DNR and will demand:

  • Factory farm inspections that fix problems, prevent spills, and result in permits;
  • Clean Water Act permits for every factory farm so they are forced to play by stronger rules or get shut down with a “three strikes and you’re out” policy;
  • Stiff fines and penalties large enough to deter illegal pollution.

Members believe that Governor Branstad and his DNR Director Chuck Gipp are still not enforcing the Clean Water Act against factory farm polluters, even six months after a work plan agreement was signed between the state and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to bring Iowa into compliance with federal law.

“It’s time for some action, DNR,” said Larry Ginter, a member and independent family farmer from Rhodes, Iowa.  “We need inspections that find problems and prevent pollution and Clean Water Act permits for every factory farm that include a three-strikes-and-you’re-out rule so these factory farms are either forced to play by stronger rules or shut down.”

At least 76 manure spills were reported to the DNR in 2013, and that doesn’t include 11 emergency exemptions to apply liquid manure on snow and frozen-covered ground the DNR has approved this winter that will almost certainly result in runoff and water pollution once temperatures rise.

Members will also call out five of the eight EPC commissioners for their ties to the corporate factory farm industry.  According to public documents on file with the DNR, EPC Commissioner:

  • Gene Ver Steeg owns confinements housing 20,000 corporate hogs and had a manure spill last fall
  • Brent Rastetter owns two confinements housing 9,200 corporate hogs and is the CEO of Quality Ag Builders Inc, a company that builds factory farm confinements and manure pits
  • Max Smith owns a hog gestation factory farm that houses 4,117 corporate hogs
  • Nancy Couser owns feedlots and confinements housing 5,200 cattle
  • Cindy Greiman with her husband owns feedlots and confinements housing 3,794 cattle

EPC commissioners are appointed by the governor.


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Governor Branstad’s appointee to the Environmental Protection Commission Gene Ver Steeg was one of 76 factory farm operators to spill manure in 2013,  an audit of Department of Natural Resources (DNR) records by our members shows.

Ver Steeg owns four factory farms producing 20,000 corporate hogs a year in northwest Iowa.  He was the president of  the Iowa Pork Producers Association in 2006 and reappointed to the DNR’s Environmental Protection Commission  (EPC) in 2013 by Governor Branstad after serving a four-year term from 2008-2012.

Ver Steeg may reasonably be considered the face of the factory farm industry in Iowa.  According to DNR records,  which you can view here, Ver Steeg was hauling liquid manure before dawn the morning  of November 13, 2013 and spilled more than 1,500 gallons down 260th Street in Lyon County.  He called in the spill  about an hour after an anonymous caller reported it to the DNR.  The DNR’s investigation report reads:

 He started hauling while still dark and believed everything was closed and not leaking, but later discovered something had  leaked along one lane as he was going west for a mile and a half…They had the county clean and scrape most of it off and  Fire department will hose off the rest of it..He is contacting all of neighbors to offer them a car wash.

Gene Ver Steeg is an outspoken opponent of Clean Water Act regulations.  On March 15, 2013, Ver Steeg was featured  in a Wall Street Journal story “Livestock Waste Lands Iowa in Hot Water” and was reported saying Clean Water  Act enforcement was a waste of money.  “It’s not needed,” Mr. Ver Steeg said.  He has consistently used his influence as  an EPC commissioner to promote industry-friendly rules.

Ver Steeg’s 2013 manure spill was only one of 76 reported to the DNR in 2013, a frequency greater than one a week.  At least 10 of those spills reached a waterway and 60 spills originated from a hog operation.  The number of manure spills in 2013 nearly doubled the rate of 46 in 2012, 46 documented manure spills with 34 originated from a hog operation. [DNR’s 2013 manure release report can be viewed here]

Of the 23 spills since October 31st, 2013 four sites received inspections within a year of the spill and six sites had never received an inspection by the DNR.  At least three manure spills since October 31, 2013 have reached a waterway after pipes broke during the transport of liquid manure from manure pit to manure pit or pit to open-air lagoon – including a Maschhoff Pork facility in Van Buren County, Roanoke LLC in Audubon county, and an Iowa Select facility in Wright county.

Our members say this new information highlights the danger that factory farm pollution poses to Iowa’s water quality, particularly when the DNR continues to refuse to perform high-quality Clean Water Act inspections and issue tough operating permits that force the industry to play by stronger rules.

“Every factory farm in Iowa is a ticking time bomb that could have a spill at anytime, and the DNR needs to start holding them accountable for polluting our waterways by issuing them Clean Water Act permits so they have to follow stronger environmental standards,” member and Board President Lori Nelson explained.

“How many manure spills is it going to take before the DNR issues a Clean Water Act Permit?  We’re swimming in, fishing in, and drinking manure.  Governor Branstad and DNR Director Chuck Gipp need to quit working for the factory farm industry and do what’s best for our water and environment,” said Larry Ginter, an independent family farmer and long-time Iowa CCI member.

CCI members will attend the Environmental Protection Commission meeting in February to demand the DNR do its job, perform good inspections, issue stiff fines and penalties to documented polluters, and start handing out tough new Clean Water Act permits that crack down on water pollution.

This new information about factory farm manure spills is part of an ongoing investigation by CCI members of manure spills and DNR inspections.


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DNR’s Draft Factory Farm Clean Water Act Rule Needs Stronger Permit Requirements

Community-Environmental Coalition Says the Department of Natural Resources Proposal Falls Short of Ensuring Factory Farm Discharges will Result in Clean Water Act Permits

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, the Iowa Sierra Club, and the Environmental Integrity Project have released a draft copy of new Clean Water Act permitting rules for factory farms, otherwise known as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), being considered by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

A 2007 petition by CCI, Sierra Club, and EIP to the Environmental Protection Agency led to a Work Plan Agreement and this rulemaking, but the groups say the proposed rule does not go far enough to ensure that every factory farm polluter will apply for and obtain a Clean Water Act permit, and will leave too much discretion to the DNR to determine which facilities need permits.  The Clean Water Act permits, known as National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits, restrict pollution discharges from sources like industrial animal factories to protect water quality, yet DNR has never issued such a permit to a hog or poultry operation.

A copy of the draft DNR Clean Water Act permitting rules is available at the Environmental Integrity Project website:

At a minimum, the coalition partners say, the DNR must amend the draft rules to reflect EPA’s position that “CAFOs that have discharged in the past will discharge in the future, and are therefore expected to obtain a permit, unless the conditions that led to the discharge are fully remedied.” As proposed, DNR does not address what a factory farm must do to meet this high standard, posing the risk that the agency will let facilities off the hook by giving them the benefit of the doubt that every illegal discharge is a one-time event.

Instead, the groups assert, bare minimum compliance with federal law requires DNR to presume that a discharger will continue to pollute and needs a permit.  This is particularly important when circumstances unrelated to operator error, such as steep slopes, outdated waste storage systems, or close proximity to waterways, make it unlikely an operator can prevent additional pollution.

Garry Klicker, a CCI member and independent family farmer from Bloomfield, said:  “Factory farms that have polluted in the past will pollute in the future and they have a clear duty to apply for a Clean Water Act permit, but the DNR’s draft rule attempts to bypass this very simple standard by creating a loophole large enough to drive a manure spreader through.  It’s time to stop pretending that the industry can just fix a broken pipe and get back to business as usual, because our water quality can’t afford that kind of kowtowing anymore.”

Tarah Heinzen, an attorney with the Environmental Integrity Project representing CCI, said: “The DNR has the authority and duty to require every factory farm discharger to apply for a Clean Water Act permit, but its proposal is ambiguous. Without a clearer standard for when a facility requires a permit, Iowa factory farms will continue business as usual, to the detriment of the state’s hundreds of impaired waterways.”

Wally Taylor, an attorney with the Iowa Sierra Club, said: “CAFOs are not farms; they are factories. They should be required to have NPDES permits just like any other industry that discharges pollutants into the water. The DNR rule must protect our waters from CAFOs that discharge pollutants.”

In addition to clarifying that certain facilities require permits, the coalition will ask DNR to strengthen its standards for waste application so the agency’s permits adequately protect water quality.

The September 11 Work Plan requires the DNR’s Environmental Protection Commission to propose draft rules and open them up for public comment within 180 days.  Coalition members have requested DNR open up a 60 day public comment period and hold in-person hearings in Ames, Bloomfield, Carroll, Des Moines, Iowa City, and Keosauqua to ensure adequate opportunity for input from the citizens most impacted by factory farm water pollution.

In a January 23 letter, EPA informed DNR that the draft rule meets minimum federal requirements and gave its preliminary approval.  CCI, the Sierra Club, and EIP note, however, that the approval essentially sets a floor, not a ceiling, for the rules, and that the bare minimum simply cannot clean up Iowa’s polluted waters and hold factory farms accountable for the widespread pollution they cause.


The Environmental Integrity Project ( is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization established in March of 2002 by former EPA enforcement attorneys to advocate for effective enforcement of environmental laws.  EIP has three goals:  1) to provide objective analyses of how the failure to enforce or implement environmental laws increases pollution and affects public health; 2) to hold federal and state agencies, as well as individual corporations, accountable for failing to enforce or comply with environmental laws; and 3) to help local communities obtain the protection of environmental laws.

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement ( is a 39-year-old statewide non-profit grassroots organization.  Iowa CCI has led the fight against factory farms in Iowa for the past 20 years and has pushed for better environmental and permitting laws for factory farms on the state and national level.

Sierra Club is the nation’s oldest grassroots environmental organization.  Its 1.4 million members and supporters work together to protect our communities and the planet.  Through litigation and administrative and legislative advocacy, the Sierra Club has worked for the past decade to improve controls over factory farm water and air pollution.