Water fight over Minn. pig farm goes to court

Neighbors trying to stop a large hog feedlot from being built in central Minnesota are now challenging the state's decision to let the operation draw millions of gallons of groundwater.

The state Department of Natural Resources hasn't done enough to ensure the farm's groundwater demands won't damage nearby Lake Osakis and other area water supplies, said Amanda Prutzman, an attorney for the neighbors.

The Humane Society of the United States has joined neighbors in asking an appeals court to intervene. The animal welfare group says the state Department of Natural Resources erred in issuing the Gourley Brothers farm in Todd County a permit to draw up to 8 million gallons of groundwater per year to water livestock.

Groundwater use has drawn more scrutiny in certain areas of the state in recent years as hydrologists have shown a link between groundwater pumping and water levels in lakes and wetlands. The Todd County case, filed last week, does not cite evidence that groundwater withdrawals have damaged local water supplies.

The DNR, however, didn't meet its legal obligations when it issued the permit, said Humane Society attorney Peter Brandt. "It did not consider the impacts of allowing this facility to go in there and withdraw more than 10,000 gallons of water per day," he said.

"Really, they're relying on the permittees, on Gourley's information," Prutzman added.

DNR officials said they don't comment on pending litigation.

In general, each water permit decision looks at potential impacts, said Julie Ekman, who manages water conservation and regulations at the DNR. "That's our main charge and that's our main area of expertise is looking at the physical impacts of that withdrawal," she said.

Ekman said the DNR rarely rejects water appropriation permit applications but often makes adjustments or puts conditions on the permits.

Your support matters.

You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.