The federal Environmental Protection Agency has issued a warning to four of the fifty feedlots it surveyed last year in western Iowa, saying it’s likely they violated the Clean Water Act. EPA Region 7 Administrator John Askew says after a five-year moratorium ended, they began inspections, along with Iowa’s Department of Natural Resources.
Askew says Iowa cattle producers overall have been working toward getting into compliance with the Clean Water Act over the last five years. Despite the efforts of the majority, he says a few have been dragging their feet. Four of the fifty inspected last year were sent administrative compliance orders. There are monetary penalties included in those orders, determined by the degree of violation found at those farms.
The farmers still have an opportunity, Askew says, to come in and work with the EPA regulators to negotiate the issue. Rather than tramping through every feedlot, attorney Dan Breedlove says inspectors used a model to determine if the operators were doing what’s needed to keep their livestock waste from polluting waterways in their areas.
Put together by the Department of Agriculture, this model’s used by engineers to calculate the runoff that would need to be contained from a livestock facility, and determine the size of manure lagoons they need to build. It takes into account rainfall, the soil types, and the slope of the land to figure how much water would run off a given feedlot in a 24-hour rainfall in a "25-year storm." It’s the model used by USDA to calculate how much water runs off. That model showed four farmers without adequate design in place to prevent their expected runoff from polluting waterways.
There were no fish kills found at those sites, but Art Spratlin, Director of the EPA’s Water, Wetlands and Pesticide Division says the warnings are based on a breadth of knowledge about livestock farming. "We all know what can come off of a feedlot," Spratlin says, "and we know the impact it can have on the fish, and the flora and fauna in a stream, so we use that knowledge to make our decision." He says the purpose of the inspections, and the warnings, is to make sure there are adequate controls in place so that kind of incident won’t be likely to happen or pose a threat to the environment, or public health.
The EPA officials say administrative law judges will come to hearing locations near the farmers to hear their responses. The four feedlots ordered to come into compliance are Pithan Feedlot in Anthon; Lowell Vos Feedlot in Kingsley; Marion J Rus Feedlot near Rock Valley; and A to Z Feeders in Atlantic. They discharge to Big Creek, Elliot Creek, Rock Creek, and Indian Creek, respectively.