Where's the Beef? Near Outstanding Iowa Waters.

posted by Michael Schmidt on Friday, June 4, 2021

Supreme Beef Feedlot near Monona, IowaFor several months, IEC has been working to prevent water pollution from a new feedlot in Northeast Iowa. We have written blog posts, commented on official proceedings orally and in writing, and sought review by the Environmental Protection Commission. We partnered with Sierra Club and conservationists to keep pushing for answers. Why did we do all this? The answer comes down to where the beef will be.

Supreme Beef is in the watershed of Bloody Run Creek, a trout stream designated by the DNR as an Outstanding Iowa Water. It has a manure basin capable of holding 38 million gallons of animal waste. The manure will be land-applied as a fertilizer on nearby fields, which is the typical method of manure “disposal” across Iowa. As IEC told DNR, we believe the manure has more nitrogen and phosphorus than Supreme Beef claims, which means that the crops where the manure will be field applied will not use up all of the nutrients. Excess nitrogen and phosphorus will run off the fields to Bloody Run Creek and could cause algae blooms in the creek, destroy the aquatic ecosystem of this Outstanding Iowa Water, harm local businesses that rely on water-related recreation, and add to the state’s pollution load to the Mississippi River. Thanks to steep slopes, sinkholes, and porous karst terrain around the facility, that outcome is likely.

Bloody Run Creek in 2017

While Supreme Beef presents a problem for Bloody Run Creek, it also exposes how poorly the state controls animal feeding operations. Bloody Run Creek is one of the cleanest waters in Iowa, with naturally reproducing trout, and it lies in one of the most sensitive landscapes in Iowa. The project application was so riddled with problems that Supreme Beef had to re-apply. The facility is not subject to the master matrix, which can override local objections. Even under these extreme circumstances, the DNR has claimed it is powerless to disapprove the project.

In short, if a facility can be approved at the Supreme Beef site, a facility can be approved anywhere. Current state environmental protection laws and regulations are not protective of the environment. They have been designed to serve the agricultural industry instead of working in the best interests of Iowans and our most precious natural resources. Even the weak regulations that are in place, like nutrient management plans, are not being enforced by state agencies.

The only conclusion we can draw is that we need bigger changes: we need to change our laws, revise our rules, and restore the balance between private and public interests in how we use our lands and waters. We need to empower the Department of Natural Resources to protect our land and water in the face of powerful agricultural interests and political pressure. IEC will continue advocating for large-scale changes and for better protection of our lakes, rivers, and creeks.

  1. cafos
  2. dnr
  3. water quality

About The Author

Michael Schmidt returned to Iowa and joined the Council in 2019. He most recently worked as a staff attorney for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, where he focused on clean water and mining issues through enforcement, permitting, and rulemaking actions. He previously worked in the water pro ... read more