Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

For Immediate Release


Adam Mason,; 515 314 2655

Jackie Filson,; (202) 683-2538

Press Release

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Sweeps Iowa’s Water Crisis Under the Rug

Despite over 10,000 factory farms and almost no Clean Water Act regulation, EPA denies petition to withdraw Iowa’s pollution program

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has denied a Clean Water Act “de-delegation petition,” which has been under consideration for more than 11 years. Iowans and environmental advocates say that the Iowa Department of Natural Resources is neglecting its duties.

“EPA’s petition denial is a whitewashing of Iowa’s ongoing failure to regulate factory farms,” says Tarah Heinzen, Senior Staff Attorney at Food & Water Watch, which has represented Iowa CCI on the petition for several years. “EPA has given these facilities carte blanche to pollute Iowa’s waterways. This decision is just one more reason why Iowa’s leaders must step up an enact a moratorium on factory farms.”

In 2012, the EPA issued a preliminary report in response to the petition, finding that the DNR was not complying with the Clean Water Act, and released a critical report finding that the Iowa DNR:

  1. Did not have an adequate factory farm inspection program;
  2. Was not issuing permits to polluting factory farms when required; and
  3. Did not assess adequate fines and penalties when violations occur.

The report confirmed what Iowa CCI had been saying for years: the DNR was not doing its job implementing the Clean Water Act when it comes to factory farms.

Petitioners Iowa CCI, the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club, and the Environmental Integrity Project asked for tougher fines and penalties that deter future pollution; Clean Water Act permits for every factory farm in Iowa; and good inspections that find and fix problems.

The EPA report led to a five-year work plan to bring DNR’s program into compliance, but aside from changes on paper, DNR has not seriously improved its regulation of factory farms.

“Just this past November the DNR permitted three 5,000 head factory farms that are building right outside of our town of Nevada. We can’t count on the DNR to protect our water because they do not have the political will to stand up for everyday folks,” said Kim Stephens, Nevada resident, and Iowa CCI member.

Based on the DNR’s latest and final Work Plan report in August of 2018, the state has still not issued Clean Water Act permits for factory farms with discharges and DNR has yet to fully assess thousands of potential “unknown” factory farms that it recently discovered through the Work Plan process.

This latest work plan did not report how or if fines and penalties were issued for pollution violations; showed that no Clean Water Acts permits were issued, meaning that there is no track record for factory farms with manure discharges; showed that approximately 8,000 of the inspections for factory farms were done via a computer; and while reporting completion of required inspections of factory farms, these desktop inspections have uncovered over 5,000 unknown sites.

Of the “unknown” factory farms that the DNR has identified, as of August 2018, over 500 are medium livestock operations and several are large factory farms, as defined by the EPA.

“This is a bittersweet result. We are glad the EPA belatedly forced the Iowa DNR to inspect CAFOs, but no real progress was made in bringing CAFOs in Iowa into compliance with the Clean Water Act,” said Carolyn Raffensperger Iowa Sierra Club Chair. “We must give effect to the rule of law. The law means nothing if it is not enforced.”

Factory farms in Iowa produce enough toxic manure to fill the largest building in Iowa, the Des Moines Principle building, 2.5 times per day. There have been more than 800 documented manure spills since 1996, that along with corporate agriculture practices have contributed to the decline of Iowa’s water ways throughout time.

“The DNR is failing us and has been failing us for a long time. We need tough rules and regulations paired with tough enforcement. The DNR showed us with this work plan, they don’t take this problem seriously. What we really need is a moratorium,” said Iowa CCI member Shannon Walker.

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and Food and Water Watch are currently advocating for a moratorium, demanding that Iowa allow no more new or expanding factory farms.


Food & Water Watch mobilizes regular people to build political power to move bold and uncompromised solutions to the most pressing food, water, and climate problems of our time. We work to protect people’s health, communities, and democracy from the growing destructive power of the most powerful economic interests.

UN Chief Urges Global Solidarity on Covid, Climate, and Debt Relief

"The last two years have demonstrated a simple but brutal truth, if we leave anyone behind, in the end, we leave everyone behind," said the secretary-general at the opening of the virtual Davos summit.

Jessica Corbett ·

Sinema's MLK Day Tweet Sparks Online Fury

One group criticized the Democratic senator from Arizona as "the white moderate MLK warned us about."

Andrea Germanos ·

Why Did Democratic AG Kill Flint Water RICO Case?

"Political corruption poisoned Flint and political corruption shielded the wrongdoers from accountability," said one critic following new revelations.

Kenny Stancil ·

Progressives Counter Cherry-Picked Quotes With MLK's True Legacy

Calling out those who have "weaponized" his words "to justify legislated white supremacy," Rep. Ayanna Pressley said King "was a radical dreamer with a bold vision for revolutionary change."

Jessica Corbett ·

'No Celebration Without Legislation': King Family Leads Voting Rights March

"I will not accept empty promises in pursuit of my father's dream," said Martin Luther King III.

Andrea Germanos ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.

Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo