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A tractor dumps a load of manure at the site of a large spill in southern Nobles County Wednesday afternoon. (Brian Korthals/Daily Globe)

County investigates manure spill

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news Worthington, 56187
Worthington Minnesota 300 11th Street / P.O. Box 639 56187

RUSHMORE -- A large stockpile of cattle manure, coupled with recent rains, has led to a significant manure spill in Nobles County's Little Rock Township.

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The discovery was made Wednesday morning by Nobles County Environmental Services Director Wayne Smith, who immediately notified the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's duty officer. Smith suspects the spill began earlier this week.

The manure, which had come from a large, rural Rushmore cattle feedlot, was being stockpiled at the edge of a farm field in the northwest quarter of Section 25, Little Rock Township. Several yards to the south of the stockpile is a privately-owned gravel pit filled with water.

County ordinance states manure stockpiles be at least 300 feet from a road, buildings or waters. This stockpile was in violation in both proximity to the township road and the water body.

By early Wednesday afternoon, a farmer worked with tractor and loader to push the manure back onto the pile. He did not identify himself and declined to comment on the situation. Later in the afternoon, Smith said large bales were placed between the stockpile and the gravel pit to reduce further manure flow into the water.

Nobles County Attorney Kathleen Kusz was notified of the situation late Wednesday, and said it was not yet known just how much manure flowed into the gravel pit.

"(The stockpile) was placed where it wasn't supposed to be," she said, adding that county environmental services staff is investigating the spill and what the response will be.

There are two main concerns about the manure spill, the first being that it occurred in an area of Little Rock Township that has a shallow aquifer.

Craig Schafer, state program administrator-principal with the MPCA's Emergency Response Program in Marshall, who was notified immediately of the spill, said it has the potential to impact groundwater.

"Just because of the geology there, we know there is the potential to impact the aquifer," Schafer said. "The water table in that area is fairly shallow. We take those groundwater incidents very seriously."

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Area Hydrologist Tom Kresko, who was briefed on the spill late Wednesday, said he planned to look into the potential impact to the aquifer today and determine whether there are any wells affected by the spill.

The second concern, according to Kusz, is the proximity between the spill area and the Topeka Shiner habitat. The federally-protected minnow is known to be in streams a mile and a half away.

"If that (manure) gets into the water system, then you have federal issues," Kusz said.

While it's too early in the investigation for Kusz to say whether people will be prosecuted for the manure spill, she said county ordinance states a misdemeanor can be charged for every day manure leaks into the water body.

Schafer said the case is interesting because there are two different farmers involved. The farmer who sourced the manure is a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) permit holder, meaning he owns more than 1,000 animal units and his permits are issued through the state. The farmer who received the manure is not a CAFO operator, and therefore falls under the governance of the county.

"The receiver ... is the one responsible," Schafer said. "He placed it in that questionable area."

The MPCA will continue to assist the county in the investigation, Schafer said, adding that the MPCA will "direct actions to be taken to mitigate and correct the problem."

As for cleaning up the water in the gravel pit, Schafer said the water could be removed from the pit "until it comes clear," which he said may not be entirely possible. Another option is to put aerators in the water to provide oxygen and a way for bacteria to break down the organic matter.

Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.

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