DES MOINES, Iowa - Environmental and animal welfare organizations on Thursday filed a notice of intent to sue a southeast Iowa hog farm after a recent accident spilled thousands of gallons of hog manure into a creek near the Des Moines River.
Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and the Humane Society of the United States said they intend to file a lawsuit in 60 days against Maschhoff Pork, an Illinois company that operates a pig farm near Keosauqua.
Under the federal Clean Water Act, those seeking to challenge businesses they believe are polluting water must file such a notice first.
The groups oppose large-scale livestock farms and have pushed the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to increase regulatory control over the farms.
Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, the Environmental Integrity Project and the Iowa Sierra Club filed a petition in 2007 with the Environmental Protection Agency seeking to have the federal agency step in and take over regulation of water quality in the state. The petition alleged Iowa was failing to be aggressive enough in stopping water pollution. In September the state reached an agreement with the EPA promising to step up inspections of more livestock farms and enforce penalties when spills occur.
The environmental and animal welfare groups want the state to issue Clean Water Act permits for facilities with repeated spills. A permit would force farms to conform to stricter rules by spelling out specific changes that could include upgrading manure storage equipment and other measures. The permit process could also result in increased fines for future spills.
The Maschhoff farm near Keosauaqua houses nearly 7,500 sows producing about 11 million gallons of manure a year. It is retained in a lagoon and occasionally spread onto about 591 acres of surrounding farmland.
The farm spilled about 6,000 gallons of hog manure in November 2007 and had two spills in December 2011 the second of which spilled more than 9,000 gallons of manure into a creek and a pond.
"The company's terrible track record when it comes to managing these dangerous waste products is deeply concerning given the damage the facility can do to the environment, waterways and both the animals it confines in tight cages and wildlife," said Jonathan Lovvorn, chief counsel for animal protection litigation at the Humane Society of the United States.
On Nov. 4, a clogged pipe in the facility's manure management system caused the discharge of thousands of gallons of waste into a nearby creek, which empties into a section of the Des Moines River.
The creek at the time of the spill was dry and Maschhoff employees dug a pit in the creek bed to stop the manure flow. They pumped the manure back into a lagoon. Water from a nearby pond was used to flush the creek.
Company spokeswoman Julie Maschhoff said the notice of potential legal action is "frivolous and totally without merit."
She said company workers discovered the broken pipe early on Nov. 4 and contained the spill within two hours. She said the manure did not reach standing water because the creek was a dry drainage ditch.
"Contrary to the notice's inaccurate claims, the Maschhoffs has an excellent track record of taking swift action to protect the local environment," she said. "The Maschhoffs is in full compliance with the state of Iowa's environmental protection laws."
The DNR had inspected the farm on Aug. 16 and the inspector concluded a permit wasn't necessary.
"This legal action against Maschhoffs will be backed up in full force with a dynamic organizing campaign to hold the DNR accountable, and to force the factory farm industry to either play by stronger rules or get shut down," said Garry Klicker, an independent family farmer and Iowa CCI member from Bloomfield.
The DNR said the Keosauqua farm spill is still under investigation.
"We do anticipate there will be appropriate enforcement actions taken once that investigation is completed," said DNR spokesman Kevin Baskins. That could include fines and orders to correct problems.