Press Release

Calling on Iowa DNR to Protect Floodplains from Feedlot Pollution

Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has not adopted floodplain map as required by the state 20 years ago.

DES MOINES, IA — The Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC) and Iowa Environmental Council (IEC) today filed a petition for rulemaking with the Environmental Protection Commission, seeking to adopt a floodplain map into state law. The legislature charged the Commission with adopting a floodplain map in 2002 to implement restrictions on feedlot siting, but the Commission never did so.

“There is no excuse for waiting decades to comply with the law,” said Josh Mandelbaum, senior staff attorney with ELPC. “Iowa’s waters cannot afford for the state to wait any longer.”

Iowa law prohibits new confinement feedlots and expansion of existing feedlots on the 100-year floodplain, as adopted into state rules. The petition requests the EPC adopt the floodplain map developed by the Iowa Flood Center in partnership with DNR, which is the best available information statewide.

“This petition should not be necessary,” said Ingrid Gronstal, Water Program Director for IEC. “Iowa has endured devastating floods, such as the floods of 2008 and 2019. Climate change will only increase the potential and scale of these disasters. We should be preparing for these types of repeated events. Iowans deserve better from their state agencies.”

In the twenty years since that law passed, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has been operating under an “interim” case-by-case approach. The DNR evaluates the floodplain at the site of each request for a new feedlot. If it is not in a floodplain, the DNR issues a declaratory order with that conclusion. This process consumes significant DNR resources; DNR has received more than 700 requests for review. The petition references examples of these reviews that raise questions about the accuracy and validity of the interim process.

“The law is clear: the Environmental Protection Commission must adopt a floodplain map. The EPC has not fulfilled its legal duty to adopt a map and protect Iowa’s waters,” said Michael Schmidt, IEC staff attorney. “Adopting the map will simplify and clarify the process for everyone.”

Significant long-term flooding affected portions of eastern Iowa in 2019 and affected substantial low-lying areas near the Mississippi River. Hog facilities in southwest Iowa flooded, killing the livestock. Manure tanks overflowed, pushing manure from feedlots into surface waters. In other cases, floods cut off access to feedlots even if the feedlot itself was above the floodwaters.

“We have seen both extreme and long-term flooding throughout the state, and climate change will only exacerbate those problems,” said Alicia Vasto, IEC’s Water Program Associate Director. “Adopting this floodplain map is an important step to protect Iowa’s waterways, the health of Iowans, and the economic security of Iowa’s livestock farmers.”

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