Clean Water Rules Update


The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is supposed to protect Iowa’s water by enforcing the federal Clean Water Act for factory farms. However, the DNR has failed to do this – for almost 30 years! 

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established an April 2005 deadline for the DNR and other states’ agencies to start implementing the Clean Water Act for livestock facilities. The DNR planned to do the minimum work required to meet the new federal requirements, but a recent Circuit Court ruling means DNR will have to do better.  

Why are Clean Water rules for factory farms important for Iowa? 

·        In the past 10 years, there have been over 300 fish kills caused by manure spills

·        In October and November of 2004 alone, there were 22 manure spills in Iowa, and most were from factory farms

·        Clean Water Act operating permits will give the DNR a way to say no to a facility in order to protect water quality, and the permits must be renewed every 5 years 

What was the EPA going to require states to do about factory farm water pollution?  

The EPA directed the states to require all livestock confinements with 1,000 animal units or more and all open feedlots with 1,000 animal units or more (2,500 hogs or 1,000 beef cattle) to obtain a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit – also known as a Clean Water Act operating permit.  

However, the EPA was allowing states to create a general, one-size-fits-all permit that would apply to almost every facility, regardless of size or history of manure violations. The Iowa DNR was on track to create one of these ineffective general permits.  

A recent Circuit Court ruling will require several changes to EPA’s proposed factory farm rules 

Several environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, challenged the EPA rules in court. As a result, a March 2005 Circuit Court ruling struck down several weak parts of the EPA’s rules. The court ruled that the permits issued to factory farms will have to be strengthened in several ways: 

1)      Nutrient Management Plans (also known as Manure Management Plans in Iowa) have to be reviewed and approved by the DNR, not just written by the factory farm operator with no DNR or public oversight.

2)     Nutrient Management Plans must be an enforceable part of the operating permit itself, to ensure the DNR can hold operators accountable for violations of their plans that pollute our water.

3)     Nutrient Management Plans must be made public record. The court reaffirmed that the Clean Water Act grants citizens the right to review and comment on new permits, including the terms of nutrient management plans.

4)     Operating permits must include enforceable limits on the discharge of fecal coliform and other dangerous bacteria to our waterways.

5)     Unfortunately, the court also ruled that EPA could only require operating permits of factory farms that have had documented manure spills. This still means hundreds of Iowa facilities will need permits. 

These changes will make it virtually impossible for the DNR to issue one statewide general permit – when they finally begin creating new rules that meet the new requirements! The DNR has not taken action to begin permitting factory farm polluters since the March court ruling. Rules still have to be written and approved by the state’s Environmental Protection Commission. 

TAKE ACTION!  Sign a postcard telling the Iowa DNR to create rules now to require strong, individual  permits of all factory farms with histories of manure releases – our water is at stake!  (Click here for the postcard.  Complete, fold, seal at the bottom, stamp and mail.)



For more information, contact Tarah Heinzen at the Sierra Club: (515) 251-3995 or