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Mar 21, 2022

Winona County residents join lawsuit to defend local government and protect drinking water from pollution from expanded industrial feedlot


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DATE: 3/21/22  

CONTACT: Aaron Klemz, MCEA, aklemz@mncenter.org, 763-788-0282


St. Paul, Minnesota – Local residents are joining the effort to stop one of the biggest factory feedlots in Winona County from getting even bigger and increasing its threat to drinking water in the area’s unique karst landscape. 

The Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (MCEA) filed a notice of its intent to intervene in the ongoing lawsuit between mega dairy Daley Farms and the Winona County Board on behalf of three Winona County residents. Daley Farms is challenging the Board’s decision to deny its request to be exempted from a county ordinance that caps animal headcounts to protect drinking water. Daley Farms is seeking this exception to allow an expansion that would more than double the size of their dairy herd, which would create over 46 million gallons of manure and wastewater every year.

Daley Farms appealed the Board’s decision in Winona County District Court in January. The residents represented by MCEA, who call themselves the Defenders of Drinking Water, are among those whose drinking water stands to be contaminated if Daley Farms’ expansion proceeds. They support the Board’s denial of Daley Farms’ variance request and the rights of Winona County residents and their elected officials to determine what’s best for their community.

“Clean and safe drinking water is important for every resident of Winona County, stated Amy Cordry, one of the Winona County residents in the Defenders of Drinking Water. “If Daley Farms is allowed to bypass this ordinance, it would set a dangerous precedent for the county and the water we all depend on.”

“County governments have the authority and responsibility to limit the size of feedlots if large operations threaten drinking water,” stated Amelia Vohs, Staff Attorney at the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy. “The attempt by Daley Farms to circumvent Winona County’s limit on the size of operations is an attack on local control and the authority of local governments to set clear standards that protect their residents.”

Winona County adopted its animal cap ordinance in 1998 to balance the interests of farmers against the region’s unusual karst topography, which allows runoff to seep largely uninterrupted into the groundwater because of the soft and porous stone that sits just below the topsoil in Winona County. That means that mega feedlots such as Daley Farms, which pose environmental risks everywhere, are particularly hazardous in Winona County because the nitrous oxide found in the fertilizer and liquid manure the operations spray on fields is quickly absorbed into the groundwater below the surface. 

Nitrate levels are already well above recommended levels in Winona County because of the phenomenon, and Daley Farms’ current operations exceed the size that local ordinance allows, but they have been grandfathered in since their operation preceded the passage of the 1998 ordinance. It would become one of the top 25 biggest mega feedlots in the state if their proposed expansion is approved. Daley Farms is located in the middle of one of the most vulnerable drinking water supply areas in the county. Nitrate pollution can be toxic and in some cases fatal for infants. 

MCEA won a case at the Minnesota Court of Appeals involving Daley Farms and its planned expansion in October 2019 after the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency approved permits for the project without considering the impacts the pollution it would create would have on the climate crisis. 

Oral arguments in the new case are expected to take place in Winona County District Court later this spring.