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How to File a Complaint with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources

If you suspect a violation of CAFO regulations, you have the right to file a complaint with the Iowa DNR. 


Suspected violations can include manure running off a field into a stream, ditch or roadway; manure applied on snow or frozen covered ground during prohibited times; or suspicion of CAFO construction taking place before a storm water or construction permit is issued among others. 


When a complaint is suspected, there are several things you can do:


1. If you witness what you believe may be a violation, take a time-stamped photograph from a public right of way, if possible. Do not trespass on private land to get a photo.A time-stamped photo of frothing water and dead fish may serve as evidence of possible manure contamination, for example.


2. Take note of as many details as possible: what, where, when, and who may be involved.


3. Call your local DNR field office to report the possible violation as soon as possible. Field offices are typically understaffed, and it may take time to send a field officer out to investigate. The sooner you call in your complaint, the better. This is especially true when manure bacteria may be present in waters for a brief period of time.


4. The Washington Field Office can be reached at 319-653-2135 from8:30 am – 4:30 pm Monday through Friday. If you are not sure if something is a violation, it’s worth discussing your observations with the DNR who have the expertise to determine if they need to follow up.


5. Provide as much detail as possible. 


6. You have the option to give your name or make an anonymous complaint. It’s advisable to supply your name if you want to follow up with the complaint. However, the complaint will be entered into the Field Office Compliance database with your name. If you have concerns about being publicly associated with your complaint, you may wish to file it anonymously.

7. Follow up your oral complaint with a written email or letter detailing your concerns. Keep a copy of your correspondence. Following up this way helps to keep the DNR’s attention on the complaint. 


8. An investigation may entail a visit to the site of the alleged violation. If manure runoff into a water body is witnessed or suspected, water samples may be taken and sent to the State Hygienic Lab at the University of Iowa for analysis. 


9. After about a week, call the field office and follow up on the investigation to ask about the result. If an investigation is pending, additional time may be needed before you hear the results. If an investigation hasn’t been conducted yet, your follow-up may help give the complaint more priority. If water samples were analyzed, you can request a copy of the State Hygienic Lab’s analysis to review the results.


The DNR also maintains a 24-hour emergency response line for environmental spills at 515-725-8694. The number is primarily for CAFO owners to report spills within six-hours of an incident. 


However, if you notice a manure spill on a roadway that might impact public safety, it’s advisable to contact this number after DNR hours. In addition, call local law enforcement as soon as possible, then follow up with the field office to report your complaint.


Not all complaints result in violations and not all violations result in administrative orders or fines. The DNR has a policy of “coaching for compliance” and often opts to educate CAFO owners on how to avoid such problems in the future.  Nonetheless, calling in complaints about suspected violations establishes a climate of community vigilance that helps to deter additional violations and even CAFOs.

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