Judge hears arguments in lawsuit to save Bloody Run

posted on Thursday, February 2, 2023 in Water and Land News

Guest author Larry Stone provides an update on a lawsuit challenging Iowa DNR's approval of the Supreme Beef, LLC feedlot in northeast Iowa. The lawsuit was filed by the Sierra Club and the Iowa Council of Trout Unlimited with support from the Committee to Save Bloody Run. The Iowa Environmental Council is not involved in the lawsuit.

Bloody Run Creek

The impact of a massive cattle operation on Bloody Run Creek, and other lands and waters in northeast Iowa’s Driftless Area, may hinge in part on Polk County District Court Judge Scott Rosenberg.

On January 20, 2023, the judge heard testimony in the Iowa Sierra Club’s lawsuit charging the Iowa Department of Natural Resources with violating state law and departmental rules when the agency in 2021 approved a plan to dispose of manure from Supreme Beef LLC’s 11,600-head cattle operation in the headwaters of Bloody Run.

The Sierra Club, assisted by the Iowa Council of Trout Unlimited, alleged that Supreme Beef's Nutrient Management Plan was based on incorrect calculations of the nitrogen and phosphorus content of manure, the amount of manure the cattle would produce, and the conservation measures required to protect highly erodible fields where the manure would be applied. In addition, the livestock facility is located in karst terrain, with fractured bedrock and nearby sinkholes. Depending on the interpretation of Iowa laws, manure storage basins may be prohibited in karst.

To further complicate the situation, Supreme Beef LLC has received an Iowa Department of Agriculture permit to separate the manure solids and liquids, and to market the solids elsewhere. That might allow much of the manure to be sold as dry fertilizer, with virtually no record of where or how it is applied.

Supreme Beef LLC has a checkered history. Construction began on the site along US Highway 18-52 near Monona in 2017. At that time, the project was named Walz Energy, with the stated intent to use the manure from 10,000 cattle and food waste to produce methane that could be scrubbed and sold as natural gas. But Walz Energy received several notices of violation and was fined by the DNR for runoff from the construction site.

After repeated problems, the DNR staff asked to refer Walz to the Iowa Attorney General’s office for further legal action, but the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission refused to take that step. State Senator Dan Zumbach of Ryan, whose son-in-law Jared Walz is one of the owners of the cattle facility, also intervened by contacting DNR Director Kayla Lyon.

Supreme Beef Facility July 2021Walz energy eventually became Supreme Beef LLC, with the methane digesters abandoned, at least temporarily, and the number of cattle increased to 11,600. The project has been plagued by internal lawsuits involving The Feeder Creek Group, which was involved in initial plans; between the Walzes and an engineer they hired; and murky financing issues. But it’s now in full operation.

Some members of The Committee to Save Bloody Run and nearby landowners also have challenged the DNR’s renewal of a water withdrawal permit first issued to Walz in 2017. The plaintiffs in that action claim the renewed permit should be invalidated because it did not disclose the 16% increase in the number of cattle and did not use a realistic estimate for water cattle use. In addition, state law says a water permit should be for “beneficial use” that does not cause pollution. The Committee to Save Bloody Run’s position is that manure from 11,600 cattle applied in huge quantities to nearby fields is almost certain to cause land, aquifer, and surface water pollution.

The water permit challenge has been delayed until after Judge Rosenberg rules on the Sierra Club and Trout Unlimited lawsuit. 

About the Author

Larry Stone is a resident of Clayton County and a member of The Committee to Save Bloody Run. Learn how you can help at savebloodyrun.org.

About The Author

IEC is pleased to welcome guest bloggers on a number of different topics throughout the year. If you are interested in submitting a blog piece to IEC, contact us at iecmail@iaenvironment.org.

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