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Battle between environmental groups and Iowa's DNR heads to court

The Sierra Club's Iowa Chapter filed a legal appeal earlier this month claiming the state's Department of Natural Resources violated its own rules when the agency approved the nutrient management plans for a feedlot near a trout stream.

Gavel court crime stock

MONONA, Iowa — An environmental group in Iowa says the agency that regulates animal feeding operations in the state was wrong when it approved a large cattle feedlot located near a trout stream in northeast Iowa.

The Sierra Club's Iowa Chapter filed an appeal Sept. 23 in Clayton County District Court, claiming Iowa's Department of Natural Resources violated its own rules this past spring when it approved the nutrient management plan (NMP) for a feedlot located near Bloody Run Creek.

The indispensable party named in the filing is Supreme Beef LLC, which submitted the proposal for the 11,600-animal feedlot operation. Iowa's DNR approved Supreme Beef's plan to expand a cattle feedlot near Monona from 2,700-head to 11,600 near the headwaters of the creek.

The area is considered to be part of the state's Driftless region, known for its karst topography. Bloody Run Creek is a cold-water trout stream designated by Iowa's DNR as one of Iowa’s 34 “outstanding waters”

Supreme Beef's proposed operation would make it one of the largest feeding operations in the state, according to the lawsuit, and in the "top one-third of one percent of animal feeding operations in Iowa," based on the DNR's animal feeding operation database.

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"In 1990 there were approximately five AFOs in Clayton County. Today, IDNR’s animal feeding operation database identifies 116 such operations in Clayton County with a total of over 100,000 animal units," the appeal states. "In response to an open records request by the Iowa Environmental Council, IDNR identified 19 other animal feeding operations with manure management plans or nutrient management plans within eight miles of Supreme Beef."

The filing claims that those current feeding sites already use nearby cropland for applying manure, and the growing number of large feeding operations "increases the risk of manure overapplication or runoff into surface water and groundwater."

The Sierra Club argues the "improper application of manure" detailed in Supreme Beef's nutrient management plan for the site would pollute the nearby water. According to a press release from the environmental group Save Bloody Run Committee, Supreme Beef's plan "used a skewed nutrient management plan, riddled with incorrect information and miscalculations."

Supreme Beef is owned by Mike Walz, Dean Walz and Jared Walz — who have attempted to complete the feedlot expansion since 2017. Their plans have been thwarted by opposition from environmental groups and legal disputes with former business partners.

On Oct. 6, Jared Walz said neither the family nor its attorney were willing to comment on the Sierra Club lawsuit at the time.

"Obviously we've got nothing to hide, with the DNR here weekly to check everything out," said Walz.

When asked to weigh in on Supreme Beef's current situation, the Iowa Cattlemen's Association, which consists of nearly 9,000 beef-producing families and associated companies "dedicated to the future of Iowa's beef industry," released this statement:

"Iowa’s beef business and the families that work within it are a catalyst to rural America. On one hand, our cattlemen and women are dedicated stewards of the land, ensuring that the food they produce comes to consumer plates across the globe using practices and values to continue this tradition on the land into the future. But just as important, Iowa’s beef business is a stimulant for our state’s rural economy and provides over $6 billion of economic impact across the state."

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