MPCA denies permit to proposed feedlot near Newburg & Wisel Creeks; recommends regional study of nitrate contamination

The MPCA has denied a general permit to the proposed feedlot near Newburg and Wisel Creeks in Fillmore County. This temporary reprieve for the groundwater and trout streams in the vicinity is welcome news. Below is the announcement from MPCA.


While denial of the general permit is a big deal and presents an opportunity for larger discussion concerning the type and scale of livestock operations appropriate for the sensitive SE karst region, the project proposer can still pursue an individual permit. The MPCA is also recommending that the state Environmental Quality Board conduct a regional study of nitrate contamination. MPCA has no authority to order this study.


MPCA Commissioner denies permit to proposed feedlot, recommends study of nitrate-contaminated waters in the sensitive karst region of southeast Minnesota

Citing the need to address elevated levels of nitrate in drinking water in the karst region of southeast Minnesota, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) Commissioner John Linc Stine is announcing his decision to deny a general permit for the proposed Catalpa swine facility in Fillmore County near Mabel, Minn. Because of the permit denial, a related decision, whether to deny or approve requests for an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for this specific project is not needed at this time.


“The Catalpa project is the first big new feedlot application we’ve had in Fillmore County since extensive data on nitrate contamination of drinking water wells has come out,” Stine said, referring to new well sampling data produced by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. While hundreds have supported an EIS, an in-depth environmental study, for the proposed Catalpa Ag swine facility in Fillmore County, Stine says the issue is bigger than any one feedlot or farm, saying it would be unfair to put the responsibility for the broad issue of existing nitrate contamination of groundwater onto one farmer.


Catalpa Ag proposed to build a new 4,890-head swine farrowing facility that would have generated an estimated 7.3 million gallons of liquid manure annually. More than 700 people attended two public meetings held by MPCA on the proposal in June and December. The MPCA received 771 comments on the project.


Based on the feedback received on this project, Stine is recommending that the Environmental Quality Board (EQB)  conduct a regional environmental study of groundwater pollution for the geologically sensitive karst region of southeast Minnesota.


“The karst region is subject to rapid seepage of contaminants from the land and overlying soils, making the groundwater of this region very vulnerable,” Stine said. A Minnesota Department of Agriculture study found that 19 of 24 townships in Fillmore County have private wells at or above the health risk limit for nitrates, which is 10 milligrams per liter. Nitrates in drinking water can pose a health risk to people, especially infants and the elderly.


If the recommendation to conduct the regional environmental impact study is approved, it would be paid for by the State of Minnesota, not producers, and would include a public process with opportunities for comment and citizen input. Stine said his recommendation for a larger regional study will be more beneficial for farmers, businesses and area residents, as it will provide an overall picture of sources of nitrate contamination in groundwater.


If the EQB accepts the MPCA recommendation, it would engage the public during a scoping phase to further define the area to be studied and other parameters. The karst region is an area of southeast Minnesota covering roughly six counties.

Catalpa Ag may still apply for a customized permit, known as an individual permit. The individual permit process is a more in-depth and tailored analysis that is more rigorous than the general permit Catalpa Ag had applied for. Farmers and producers in the region seeking permits for new or expanded feedlot operations could continue to seek individual permits while a regional study is underway.

All documents related to the proposal can be found on the MPCA’s Catalpa Ag LLC webpage.

A map showing karst features in Minnesota can be found on the Department of Natural Resources website.