Environmental Catastrophe Unfolds: Fertilizer Spill Wipes Out Almost Entire Iowa River Ecosystem

By Lisa Pelgin | Monday, 01 April 2024 12:00 PM
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A significant environmental incident unfolded earlier this month along a substantial 50-mile stretch of the East Nishnabotna River near the Missouri border in Iowa, resulting in the tragic demise of hundreds of thousands of fish.

The catastrophe was attributed to a fertilizer spill originating from the premises of NEW Cooperative, Inc. in Red Oak, as reported to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) on March 11.

According to the DNR, approximately 1,500 tons, equivalent to 265,000 gallons, of liquid nitrogen fertilizer was discharged into a drainage ditch, subsequently contaminating the East Nishnabotna River. The spill was traced back to an inadvertent opening of a valve on an above-ground storage tank during the weekend.

DNR Fisheries staff disclosed that the detrimental effects of the spill were felt across the entire 49.8-mile expanse of the East Nishnabotna and Nishnabotna Rivers downstream of the incident, extending into Missouri’s segment of the Nishnabotna River before tapering off near the junction with the Missouri River. The toll on aquatic life was devastating, with a reported 749,242 fish casualties, predominantly minnows, shiners, dace, and chubs.

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Efforts are underway to assess the broader repercussions of the fertilizer release on the river's ecosystem. In compliance with Iowa state regulations, a permit is mandated for any discharge of pollutants into water bodies. The DNR is currently liaising with its legal department to chart the course for enforcement actions and restitution for the loss of aquatic fauna.

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Despite a recent decline in ammonia levels detected through field assessments, caution is advised by the DNR, urging the public to abstain from recreational activities on the river and to refrain from handling or consuming deceased fish discovered in or around the affected area.

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