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Pollution agency probing major manure spill

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The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is investigating what caused a major manure spill at a Fillmore County dairy farm, officials said Tuesday.

The spill happened Sunday night when one of the pit's concrete walls cracked and then collapsed, said Mike Frauenkron, Fillmore County's feedlot officer. Frauenkron said about three-fourths of the spill was contained, but some of it reached Donaldson Creek, an intermittent stream, and Wisel Creek, a designated trout stream. The streams flow into the Root River.

"We put boards in front of the culverts so it can't get any farther. What has gotten into the intermittent stream where there's actually snow melt and rainfall runoff right now, there's nothing we can do with that," he said. "It's never good news that we have a spill, but it's at least good news that we can contain it and get it cleaned up."

MPCA officials estimated that about 1 million gallons spilled, but Frauenkron says he thinks it was less.

Cathy Rofshus, a public information officer for the MPCA in southeastern Minnesota, said officials are still evaluating the full impact of the spill.

"They'll walk the creek, they'll look for dead fish, they'll probably take some water samples and see what the oxygen levels are, see if they can observe any manure. The good part here is that we've had a lot of rain so that the stormwater is going to help dilute the manure," she said.

MPCA officials are also investigating what caused the spill, including if it could have been prevented or if weather was a factor.

The manure pit was less than two years old and serves a dairy farm with about 350 milking cows.

Today officials said they will continue emptying the rest of the pit with pumps and loaders and will spread the manure on nearby farm fields.

The late spring is causing problems with livestock manure handling on farms in some parts of the state.

State officials are seeing problems with manure applied as fertilizer on fields. Some of the ground is still frozen and rain or snow melt can wash the manure off the land into lakes and streams.

One thing farmers can do to limit problems is to be careful where they spread manure, said Forrest Peterson of the MPCA. Farmers should not apply manure within 300 feet of a stream, pond or lake, he said.

"We like producers at least to look at flatter fields, so there's not as much slope or chance of runoff," Peterson said.

"If it gets into a situation where it just runs off, then it's not there for the crops and it can get into the waterways. Where the nutrients can then fuel algae blooms later on. And we also have bacteria issues."

MPR reporter Mark Steil contributed to this story.