Walz Energy receives its NPDES permit

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By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources issued a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit to Walz Energy on Jan. 12, officially paving the way for construction to continue on the 10,000-head cattle feedlot and biogas operation located east of Monona.

The decision was made despite overwhelming public opposition to not only issuance of the permit, but the project itself, at a hearing held by the DNR in Elkader on Nov. 29.

Work at the Walz Energy site at 22578 Hwy. 18 began around 10 months ago, with construction of 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 an earthen 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. The manure from the 10,000 cattle at the site will be captured and, with the help of the anaerobic digesters, combined with waste feed products to produce natural gas.

This construction continued even though the DNR had yet to issue the NPDES permit for the project, which is taking place within the watershed of Bloody Run Creek, an Outstanding Iowa Water.

According to Eric Wiklund, supervisor of the NPDES Section of the Iowa DNR, who spoke prior to the Nov. 29 hearing, that wasn’t unusual.

“Issuance of a stormwater permit is not required prior to initiating soil disturbance,” he told the crowd. “Issuance of a stormwater permit is required prior to a discharge [of pollutants].”

Due to the facility’s proximity to Bloody Run, Wiklund said the DNR required that Walz Energy apply for an individual stormwater permit and submit a stormwater pollution prevention plan.

“We worked extensively with the facility to ensure the stormwater pollution prevention plan was complete and approvable before we would issue a permit,” Wiklund said. “Continued implementation and updating of this stormwater pollution prevention plan is key to protecting resources.”

County residents at the hearing took issue with this, stating the DNR’s efforts were insufficient, or even wrong. Others called it a “sham hearing,” pleading with officials to “do their jobs” and decrying government regulations that allowed the project to move forward without public input and greater oversight.

Chief among residents’ concerns is the threat to the area’s water quality, not just of Bloody Run Creek, but ground water, as well. Many felt the project location, in karst topography that’s prone to sinkholes, was unsuitable.

Wiklund said DNR staff have conducted regular inspections of the Walz Energy site. In October, they documented a discharge and issued a notice of violation. The facility, he commented, has since made changes to prevent future discharges.

“The field office will continue to work closely with the facility while construction is occurring,” he added.

According to the permit, Walz Energy is “authorized to operate the disposal system and to discharge the pollutants specified in this permit in accordance with the monitoring requirements and other terms set forth.” 

Stormwater discharges associated with construction activity are covered by the permit. However, the permit does not cover non-storm water discharges unless the discharge is deemed uncontaminated groundwater. The discharge of hazardous substances or oil resulting from an on-site spill is also not permitted.

In addition, the permit calls on Walz Energy to implement its previously-submitted storm water pollution prevention plan, stating, “A storm water pollution prevention plan shall be implemented for the construction site covered by this permit from initiation of soil disturbing activities until final stabilization has been achieved.”

The permit goes on to say that “any permit noncompliance constitutes a violation of the Clean Water Act and is grounds for enforcement action; permit tennination, revocation and reissuance or modification; or denial of a permit renewal application. Issuance of this permit does not relieve the permittee of the responsibility to comply with all local, state and federal laws, ordinances, regulations or other legal requirements applying to the operation of your facility.”

The permit is good for five years, expiring on Jan. 11, 2023. 

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