Monitor Earthen Basins and Manure Application
Posted: 07/19/2012
DES MOINES – Dry, hot weather combined with manure application or irrigation can have unintended consequences.

Cracks in the soil can provide a near direct line for manure to reach a stream. The same weather conditions can cause problems in earthen basins used to store manure, according to the DNR.

“We don’t want to add to livestock farmers’ stress levels, but we’ve had similar conditions a few years ago and had several fish kills and water quality problems,” said Cindy Martens, an environmental specialist in the DNR’s Spencer field office. “Farmers think it’s dry and the liquid manure will just soak in. They may want to irrigate to provide moisture to the crop, but often they don’t realize how fast it can travel straight to a tile line and then into a stream. We just want people to be aware that it can be a problem, so they can do something about it.”

Martens said the problem is most likely to occur when farmers start to irrigate a crop or spread liquid manure on alfalfa or pasture. “I’ve also seen problems in dry years with a gated pipe going from a basin to a crop field,” she said. “And some of our field staff are seeing big cracks in the walls of earthen basins.”

If manure application is necessary, the DNR has the following tips to help reduce the risk of manure going to a stream:

Producers are required to call the DNR 24-hour spill line at 515-281-8694 to report spills or discharges as soon as possible or within six hours of the discovery or beginning of the spill.

“The sooner farmers call, the better, because the DNR has trained specialists who can help contain the manure,” said Martens. “The quicker they are notified, the more likely they can help producers minimize damage to fish and water quality downstream.

DNR specialists also advise checking the berms of earthen basins frequently. If there are large cracks or signs of leakage, the producer may need to wet down the berm or fill the cracks.  

Producers can also request technical assistance from their local DNR field office. Find phone numbers and staff specialties at  http://www.iowadnr.gov/InsideDNR/DNRStaffOffices/EnvironmentalFieldOffices.aspx.