Regulator among farmers to spill manure in 2013
DES MOINES (AP) — A member of the state’s Environmental Protection Commission who owns hog farms in northwest Iowa spilled manure onto a county road last year, according to a report released Monday by an environmental group opposed to large-scale livestock farms.
Gene Ver Steeg, a member since 2008 of the commission responsible for oversight of the state’s environmental policies, was one of 76 farmers to spill manure last year, said Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, a community activist group that focuses on environmental and social issues.
The number of livestock farm spills rose 65 percent in 2013 from 46 in 2012, according to Iowa Department of Natural Resources records.
Ver Steeg owns four farms near Inwood that produce about 20,000 hogs a year.
Ver Steeg spilled about 1,500 gallons of manure on Nov. 13 along about 1.5 miles of a county road, according to a spill report filed by the DNR. The county scraped most of it away and a local fire department washed the remainder into roadside ditches. Ver Steeg reported the spill about an hour after the DNR received an anonymous call about it. He offered neighbors free car washes, the DNR spill report said.
Ver Steeg acknowledged the spill and said the amount of manure washed into the ditches was far less than he is allowed to spread on fields under the management plan for his farms.
“Even though it was a spill and it was against the law to do it, it wasn’t an environmental catastrophe,” he said.
DNR spokesman Kevin Baskins said Ver Steeg reported the spill and took steps to ensure it was cleaned up.
“There were no waters of the state impacted by this incident,” he said.
Ver Steeg was first appointed to the commission in 2008 by former Gov. Chet Culver, a Democrat and has been reappointed by Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican.
Of the 76 manure spills reported in 2013, at least 10 reached a lake, stream or river and 60 originated from hog farms, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement said.
“Every factory farm in Iowa is a ticking time bomb that could have a spill at any time, and the DNR needs to start holding them accountable for polluting our waterways by issuing them Clean Water Act permits so they have to follow stronger environmental standards,” said Lori Nelson, the group’s board president from Bayard.
Baskins said Iowa has about 8,800 livestock farms and the 76 reported spills represent less than 1 percent.
“In recent years, we have seen livestock producers do a better job of reporting incidents and in responding when a spill does occur to prevent manure from reaching surface water,” he said.
Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement said it will send some of its members to the Environmental Protection Commission meeting this month to demand the DNR perform good inspections, issue stiff fines and penalties to documented polluters, and start handing out tough new Clean Water Act permits that crack down on water pollution.