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DNR reduces fine for creek contamination that killed 50,000 fish

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DNR reduces fine for creek contamination that killed 50,000 fish

Oct 04, 2023 | 1:41 pm ET
By Jared Strong
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DNR reduces fine for creek contamination that killed 50,000 fish
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A high concentration of fertilizer in Dry Creek killed more than 50,000 fish in September 2022, the Department of Natural Resources reported. (Photo by Dan Kirby/Iowa DNR)

State environmental regulators reduced a fine that stemmed from a large fish kill last year in eastern Iowa after the owners of the culpable farm operation appealed.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources initially levied a $10,000 administrative fine — the highest allowed by law — against Patrick and Tracy Hammes LLC of rural Batavia, along with a penalty of $11,339.89 for fish restitution.

That initial order in March was unilaterally determined by the DNR, with the potential for appeal. The Hammeses did appeal and negotiated a $3,000 reduction of the fine, according to DNR records.

As part of that agreement, the Hammeses waived any further right to appeal. Further, they have complied with aspects of the previous order to identify all drains at the farm site and to develop a plan to prevent future creek pollution.

The problem was reported to the DNR in September 2022, when someone saw dead fish in Dry Creek, about six miles northwest of Coggon in Buchanan County.

An investigation identified the nearby Hammes farm site as a likely source of the creek contamination. Liquid ammonia fertilizer is stored there, and runoff from the site could wash into drains that go into underground tiling in nearby fields.

That tiling empties into a small waterway that flows to a pond and the creek. The DNR believes the pond, which is formed by a dam, developed a high concentration of ammonia nitrogen. That pond water was abruptly released into the creek when the dam was breached during a reconstruction project.

DNR tests of the remaining pond water found it had an ammonia nitrogen concentration of 490 parts per million, which is more than 100 times the concentration that is regarded as safe for aquatic life.

A DNR officer estimated that about 50,700 small fish died in a 6-mile stretch of Dry Creek.