DNR hits Walz Energy with another violation

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By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) issued another notice of violation to Walz Energy, LLC, on June 11, citing the facility’s failure to comply with its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) storm water permit, as well as a discharge of storm water into nearby Bloody Run Creek.

This also goes against the requirements of the administrative consent order Walz Energy entered into with the DNR last August to address previous violations at the 10,000-head cattle feedlot and biogas operation under construction outside Monona. At the time, Walz agreed to pay a $10,000 administrative penalty, comply with its storm water permit and cease any illegal discharges to a water of the state.

The latest notice of violation was the fifth issued to Walz Energy since the July 17, 2018 Iowa Environmental Protection Commission (EPC) meeting, when the EPC chose not to refer the facility to the state attorney general’s office for ongoing issues at the site that included illegal discharges to Bloody Run Creek and lack of storm water control work to stabilize and seed the construction area. The other recent notices of violation were issued Aug. 21, Oct. 5, Oct. 23 and Dec. 12, 2018, according to a report recently released by the DNR’s Environmental Field Office in Manchester.

“This department has seen very little action from Walz Energy to bring the site into compliance,” noted Tom McCarthy, environmental specialist senior with the DNR, in the report.

Work at the site first began two years ago, with plans to construct six open front cattle barns, to go with an additional barn already in existence, as well as a feed storage area, concrete transfer pits and a liquid manure storage lagoon with a capacity of nearly 39 million gallons. Also included on the site will be tanks for anaerobic digestion and methane production. However, minimal work has been documented in the past year.

The DNR has continued to monitor the site throughout this period, and McCarthy visited several times over the winter. He and field office supervisor Joe Sanfilippo also met with Miron Construction, of Cedar Rapids, who is slated to work on storm water, the waste water basin and startup/commissioning of the digester.

“We discussed seeding and covering the at grade area around the buildings. We also discussed de-watering the storm water basins and food storage basins,” McCarthy said. “Dynamic Engineering will operate the digester for two years and train Walz staff. [Field Office One] stressed the need to follow DNR regulations to improve environmental compliance.”

After an inspection on May 1, during which McCarthy and Sanfilippo discovered breaches of both feed storage and storm water basins, McCarthy directed Walz Chief Operating Officer Jon Haman to stop the discharge of contaminated water and repair all basins. 

McCarthy also noted that bottle results had been taken, showing the level of ammonia nitrogen in the discharge from tile outlets.

“We discussed possible legal action by this department,” McCarthy stated.

On May 20, the field office received an anonymous complaint that heavy rains had caused a discharge from the Walz Energy property. During an inspection, McCarthy found a breach to the lower food storage basin was discharging silage leachate into the east storm water basin, where there was a heavy algae bloom. The basin, he added, was discharging across the east property line into a grassed waterway on the neighboring Meyer property. A flow of greenish water with ammonia nitrogen greater than three parts per million was flowing down the waterway.

“I noted dozens of dead worms in the contaminated water,” McCarthy said.

He also discovered an over land discharge of water with a strong algae bloom and high ammonia nitrogen entering a tributary of Bloody Run Creek, which is deemed an Outstanding Iowa Water.

Current and future threats to Bloody Run, as well as to the groundwater in the area’s porous karst topography, have been the biggest concerns for local residents since the Walz Energy project began.

After the inspection, McCarthy notified Haman of his findings, receiving a promise that Walz Energy would repair the basins. During a follow-up visit on May 28, he noted the food storage basin and lower two storm water basins were repaired.

According to the DNR, Walz Energy is now required to implement all portions of its storm water pollution protection plan (SWPPP) and remove and properly dispose or reuse waste construction materials that are not under a roof. They’ve also been instructed to keep all basins in good repair and pump down food storage wastes. 

In addition, Walz Energy is required to follow two items of the signed consent agreement: cease all illegal discharges to waters of the state and comply with all conditions of its NPDES permit.

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