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Agropur Plans Wastewater Pipeline to Dump 2 Million Gallons a Day into Big Sioux

South Dakota’s next big pipeline won’t carry oil; it’ll carry wastewater from Agropur’s Lake Norden cheese plant to the Big Sioux River.

According to documents on file with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Agropur’s big plant expansion will nearly triple its cheese production capacity, increasing the amount of milk processed each day from 3.3 million pounds to 9.3 million pounds. That nearly tripled production will produce up to two million gallons of wastewater per day, requiring at least 60 million gallons of storage capacity in its treatment lagoons. Even with an expansion planned for completion this fall, Agropur’s on-site treatment facility can’t hold that much water. Agropur thus plans to switch from storing the water in lagoons to dumping its wastewater in the Big Sioux River, fourteen miles to the east.

Doing so will require revoking Agropur’s existing surface water discharge permit, #SD0025411, which actually allows no discharge, and replacing it with a new permit (see draft here). According to the DENR statement of basis, the draft limits for ammonia-nitrogen, alkalinity, and total dissolved solids “will allow degradation to the current water quality in the Big Sioux River; however, the draft limits will still be protective of the water quality standards.”

According to an article in the latest Hamlin County Republican (print only), Agropur Midwest VP Tim Czmowski told the Hamlin County Commission at its April 4 meeting that Agropur’s wastewater will improve water quality in the Big Sioux. That is possible; Agropur’s pipeline could dilute some of the cowpoop and E. coli running into the river.

Whatever the quality of the water, Agropur’s wastewater pipeline will increase the quantity of water in the Big Sioux. Agropur will dump another 3.09 cubic feet of water per second, 2.0 million gallons per day. That’s a drop in the bucket compared to the 103 cubic feet per second/66.6 million gallons per year that Agropur reports (Attachment 3) as the annual natural flow rate in the Big Sioux at the discharge site near Estelline. Downstream in Brookings County, the river’s long-term mean flow this wet spring day is 994 cubic feet per second, or 642 million gallons per day. Down at Sioux City, the Big Sioux today is delivering 2,360 cubic feet of water per second to the Missouri, or 1.5 billion gallons per day.

Agropur asked Hamlin County for permission to discharge the water, as well as to bore under county roads, put air relief valves in the right of way, and, if easements don’t all come through, to install pipeline in a half-mile of right-of-way. The Hamlin County Commission, of course, said okey-dokey, although HCR reports that the commissioners would much prefer that Agropur work with the landowner to obtain that half-mile easement outside the right-of-way.

HCR says Agropur has secured 32 easements and may beed eight more to green-light the project. The sixteen-inch pipe will be laid six feet underground in most places. Agropur wanted to run the pipeline across Stone Bridge on Highway 28, between Lake Poinsett and Dry Lake, but, according to HRC, “the timeline wasn’t going to work for construction.” Thus, Agropur will spend over a million dollars more to bore two thirds of a mile and lay its pipe thirty feet below the bed of Dry Lake. That extra depth is necessary to keep the pipe from floating up in the sandy soil.

G. Mark Mickelson’s right-hand man Ty Eschenbaum was at the Hamlin County Commission meeting last week to make sure commissioners voted properly. Mickelson’s CAFO consulting firm works for Agropur in securing easements, and I hear that includes the easements for the pipeline. Agropur says (Attachment 3) its Lake Norden plant expansion will require a 28% increase in South Dakota’s 90,000-head dairy herds. That’s over 25,000 cows, maybe three more big CAFOs for Mickelson and company to consult for and make money on.

DENR is taking public comment on Agropur’s proposed surface water discharge permit through May 11.


  1. mike from iowa 2018-04-12 07:55

    According to the DENR statement of basis, the draft limits for ammonia-nitrogen, alkalinity, and total dissolved solids “will allow degradation to the current water quality in the Big Sioux River; however, the draft limits will still be protective of the water quality standards.”

    If you believe this, I have a full scale replica of Mt Rushmore standing in a cornfield here in iowa. ( I don’t)

    This bizarre statement from DENR is applicable only and until the first major spill of sewage hits the Big Sioux, bigly in big time. Yer Fairy mfimother has spoken.

  2. Dave B 2018-04-12 10:43

    Not to mention the waste generated by the dairy cows providing the additional 6 million pounds of milk.

  3. Roger Elgersma 2018-04-12 12:52

    what is a draft limit?

  4. Gduffy 2018-04-12 13:06

    Mike: I believe there all ready has been a major spill of sewage into the Big Sioux several years ago.

    I think the name of the place was the City of Sioux Falls!

  5. mike from iowa 2018-04-12 13:28

    Thanks, Gduffy.

  6. Donald Pay 2018-04-12 14:18

    Well, I have to say that those “no discharge” permits are a joke, so having that b.s. out of the permit will be an improvement in honesty. Still, they should uphold non-degradation as the standard, especially since Agropur is selling this as a water quality improvement to the Big Sioux. Howver, you need to be concerned with the amount of additional loading, not just concentrations.

    You could request an EIS to have them determine what the impact of that additional loading would be on the river ecology, and they should be asked to disclose cumulative impacts of additional cattle numbers and any additional foreseeable pipelines like this from this facility or others. Really, they need to do a lot of study before they make any decisions on this. But, as usual, DENR will just shove it up your a** without doing the research. I’d say you could go over their head directly to EPA if you don’t like how they are going about this, except EPA is corrupt now, also.

  7. HydroGuy 2018-04-12 15:04

    Agropur’s estimated average annual flow of 103 cfs in the Big Sioux River at the proposed discharge point is significantly low. The average annual flow at the streamgage on the river near Castlewood (period of record – 1977-2016) is 102 cfs from a contributing drainage area of 579 sq. mi. The average annual flow at the streamgage on the river near Bruce (period of record – 2001 & 2005-2016) is 283 cfs from a contributing drainage area of 1549 sq. mi. According to USGS StreamStats, the contributing drainage area at the proposed discharge point is 1271.27 sq. mi., a difference of 692.27 sq. mi. compared to the Castlewood streamgage. To posit that the average annual flow would only be 1 cfs more at the former compared to the latter—even though the contributing drainage area is 120% larger—is absolutely asinine.

    MFI: Take everything gduffy says with a big grain of salt; he’s a lackey whose main objective as an East Dakota Water Development District board member ( is to carry water for Big Ag (pun definitely intended).

  8. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-04-12 15:12

    Well, remember, Mike, there’s no sewage in this pipeline. Agropur doesn’t have any cattle on site, just milk. Their wastewater comes solely from processing that milk and cleaning equipment. The only sewage at the plant comes from employees pooping. :-)

  9. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-04-12 15:19

    draft limit = limits written in the draft permit, as opposed to the final, official limits.

  10. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-04-12 15:21

    There will, however, be manure from 28,000 dairy cows, likely concentrated in 3–4 CAFOs, which Mickelson will surely be working to pipe across his clients driveways to save his clients money.

  11. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-04-12 15:25

    HydroGuy: if Agropur’s river flow rate is low—i.e., if the actual natural flow is higher—wouldn’t that mean that the impact of their wastewater discharge would be even less than indicated in their report?

  12. OldSarg 2018-04-12 17:30

    It will still smell but it’s on the east side not the pretty side of the state. I’m kidding, but go ahead and call me a racist again. . .

  13. John 2018-04-12 20:44

    All “waste water” should be cleaner, or at least as clean, as the input water. That is how we are good conservation stewards and have sustainable development.

  14. Robert McTaggart 2018-04-12 22:10

    If it is for human consumption, then hit it with UV and have a reasonable level of minerals in it (i.e. not distilled water). Otherwise, it should be consistent with water found in the environment it is released into.

  15. Jason 2018-04-12 23:37


    What is harmful to the environment about the waste water in your post?

    Since you didn’t post it, I am going to guess nothing.

  16. Jason 2018-04-12 23:40


    Are you saying you don’t want more cows in SD?

  17. mike from iowa 2018-04-13 07:20

    OS- racist.If you don’t want the name don’t ask for it, literally or figuratively.

  18. mike from iowa 2018-04-13 07:25

    I disagree, Doc. Much of the water in these here United States is impaired already. Any water discharged ought to be held to higher standards. It doesn’t make sense to push the water cleanup further downstream.

  19. Robert McTaggart 2018-04-13 08:22

    In particular we should be removing heavy metals and treat various solids before they enter the ecosystem, but I disagree with dumping huge volumes of ultra-pure, mineral-free water into the environment.

  20. Gduffy 2018-04-13 11:03

    Hydro Guy: I was simply answering a query by Mike from Iowa and then you attack me for being a lackey for Big Ag whatever that is. You don’t even know me but that does not stop you from making assumptions about my motives! At least I am out there not hiding under a nick name such as yours!

    The last time I looked I was eligible to run for the Water board because I pay taxes just like everyone else in the district.

    Is ag part of the problem with water quality? Of course, but cities such as Sioux Falls, Brookings and Watertown are not lily white as you want to infer. They contribute to water quality or lack thereof also as well as wildlife.

  21. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-04-13 15:33

    Robert, consistent with the Big Sioux is a pretty low standard. I prefer John’s standard.

  22. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-04-13 15:36

    Jason, I referred clearly to items in the statement of basis indicating that the water going in will increase some contaminant levels.

    As for the number of cows, crowding more cows onto CAFOs is neither the only nor the most sustainable way to grow South Dakota’s economy and improve our overall quality of life. But crowding more cows under the laws G. Mark Mickelson used his legislative power to weaken will definitely grow Mickelson’s bank account. Externalities for us, cash for G. Mark. Nice.

  23. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-04-13 15:38

    GDuffy, yes, cities pollute water, too, but as I recall from Lake County, ag contributes the bulk of pollutants in our prairie water courses. All users of water have an obligation to conserve and clean.

  24. HydroGuy 2018-04-13 16:47

    CAH @ 15:25 on 4/12
    Yes, dilution is often the solution to pollution, and more water equals more dilution. I simply wanted to point out that the average annual flow at the proposed discharge point was significantly underestimated; hopefully it was a technical oversight and not something more nefarious.

    Gduffy @ 11:03 on 4/13
    You must have quite a unique birth certificate if “Gduffy” is your real name and not a nickname. I’ve never known you to reveal your true identity on this blog, but it was easily determined based on several biased comments you made on this and previous blog posts. I post using a pseudonym due to constraints associated with my profession and make no apologies for it.

    It’s your responsibility as a publically-elected EDWDD board member to speak the truth regarding the actual causes of water quality and quantity impairments—regardless if it fits your ag protectionist agenda. By repeatedly addressing municipal impacts and not agricultural—especially in an agriculture-dominated watershed like the Big Sioux—you’re being disingenuous at best and lying by omission at worst. Further, if you’d exercised due diligence by reading TMDL reports for the Big Sioux and other ag watersheds, you’d have realized the impact of wildlife on water quality is negligible and avoided your foolish statement—plus learned that ag negatively impacts water quality to a much greater extent than municipal wastewater.

    Here’s a proposal: Establish long-term water quality monitoring stations at outlets of ag drainage ditches and tile outfalls, just as there are at some municipal wastewater treatment plants and on rivers; the results could be scaled and compared accordingly. What say you Mr. EDWDD board member? Are you willing to allocate money from the budget to sample and publicize the results? Or is it easier to bury existing data and refuse to collect new data regarding direct ag impacts so you can continue to hide behind alternative facts?

  25. Jason 2018-04-14 22:33


    Please explain to me how a discharge from an animal(humans are animals) is bad for the environment?

    As far as I know, all water for humans to drink is treated and able to be drank.

    So what contaminants will be increased by this?

  26. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-04-15 12:33

    DENR has water quality standards. DENR says that the waste from this pipeline will lower water quality on some criteria, though still within the limits DENR has set for overall water quality. What more need I explain, Jason? Now you’re just being tiresome.

  27. Gduffy 2018-04-16 11:12

    Cory: I agree with you, everyone must do what they can to enhance water quality. Education is the key for both rural and city folks. However, in answering a question that Mike from Iowa asked again you can’t change history in the fact that SF did put raw sewage into the Sioux.

    Hydroguy: I served on several boards in the past and have never been called as many names as you are intimating plus questioning my integrity! In case you did not notice I do represent an area that is 90% rural by area.
    Time has been spent at meeting with the ag folks educating the city folks on the board and vice versa, with great dialogue on both sides. If you would get off your “high and mighty” throne and roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty bring your proposal to a EDWWD meeting. Meetings are held the third Thursday of each month and are public meetings, in fact we have a meeting this Thursday in Egan.
    If you expect me to carry water for someone who doesn’t even have the courage to let people know who they are you can forget that. Better yet, if it is that important to you contact one of the other board members to bring your plan forward, instead of taking cheap shots at people who are actually trying to do something!

  28. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-04-16 13:44

    Sure, Sioux Falls did once dump raw sewage into the Big Sioux… just as cattle do every day. Cattle poop still contributes a majority of the E. coli in the watershed.

    Note also that we get to beat Sioux Falls like a piñata for that sewage incident (and Sioux Falls has it coming), but if we step out and tell farmers to keep their cattle out of the streams, someone will lift that line and say we’re anti-farmer (and thus anti-America, anti-capitalism, anti-God…).

  29. Gduffy 2018-04-16 16:17

    You raise an interesting point and that is one of the interesting discussions we have had on the board. What streams or creeks would you apply that to?

    Does it need to flow year around? Just in the spring and fall?

    I will give you an example: We have close to 125 acres of pasture spread over 3 quarters in 2 sections, in that mile and 1/2 there is over 2 miles of creek because it meanders that much.
    If we are required to keep that cattle out of that it basically renders the pasture useless. So how do you reconcile protecting the water with taking of property rights that were given when the land was purchased or in some cases homesteaded.

    Rivers and streams that flow year around may be a different story but again how do you balance water vs property rights?

    Hydroguy was making more references to tiling than anything else.

  30. HydroGuy 2018-04-16 17:21

    Gduffy @ 11:12 on 4/16
    Thanks for proving my earlier points with your useless diatribe! When the majority of your comments for water-related posts on this blog have focused almost exclusively on the negative impact of municipalities on water quality, your integrity deserves to be questioned—especially since you’re a publically-elected EDWDD board member who represents an area that’s, according to you, 90% rural. Not only do you illustrate willful ignorance by neglecting to acknowledge reality—the majority of water quality impairments in ag-dominated watersheds stem directly from ag sources—but your one-sided rhetoric only serves to worsen the urban-rural divide. And your Trump-like claim of “great” educational dialogue rings rather hollow in light of your biased statements to date.

    Your response to my proposal is also telling: Elected officials should be willing to state and defend their opinions on relevant questions no matter the forum; you spent more time beating your chest with a banal “bring it to the meeting” response than it would’ve taken to provide a succinct analysis. I’d appreciate a brief but honest assessment of my proposal’s merit sans the countless hours it would take on my part to draft a project concept; consider it a chance to go on record about ag’s impact on water quality so your constituents know exactly where you stand before you’re up for re-election. And before you climb up too high on your soapbox, realize that you’re dealing with someone who has a graduate-level degree in hydrology and devoted their career to protecting and restoring water, our most important natural resource.

  31. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-04-16 21:36

    “So how do you reconcile protecting the water with taking of property rights that were given when the land was purchased or in some cases homesteaded.” That is a key question. Could one argue that the “taking” is not being committed by DENR or water quality advocates but by private businesses whose waste runoff “takes” water away from the public that owns it by rendering it less fit or even unfit for various beneficial uses?

    GDuffy makes a good point about how intermittent streams complicate the issue. Cow poop (and Agropur isn’t dumping any cow poop into the Big Sioux; it’s client CAFOs will find a way) doesn’t come solely from wading cows. It might not even come mostly from wading cows. I remember getting a “hot” E. coli reading on Lake Herman in May near the inlet by Camp Lakodia. Nobody had cows in the lake or in the intermittent stream that was carrying heavy spring runoff into that southwest corner of the lake. Someone had applied manure in the field along the shore and along that stream, and the rains the night before had washed lots of that manure into the lake. Poop on pretty much any pasture in the Big Sioux watershed (but not here in Brown County—it’s so flat, nothing flows! :-D) could eventually wash into some nearby lake or stream and ultimately down to Sioux Falls and Sioux City, if it just rains hard enough.

    I’m not out to ban livestock from our pastures, manure from our fields, or cheese plants from South Dakota. (I like cheeseburgers and corn on the cob.) But I recognize that our desire for cheeseburgers has externalities that should be minimized and paid for. You want to raise 10,000 head of cattle in confinement? You should pay sufficient permitting fees and bonding to ensure proper cleanup of any spills from your sewage lagoon during wet springs and for ongoing remediation in your watershed. (And go ahead—pass the costs onto us consumers at The Flame and Nick’s Hamburgers.) You want to generate two million gallons of wastewater a day? Instead of just dumping your waste directly into the river and degrading water quality, why not build lagoons with 60 million gallons of storage? That’s four six-acre ponds, eight feet deep. Cycle the water—NW pond to SW, to SE, to NE, back to the plant, and suck it back into the plant for reuse.

    Is it really not feasible to build four six-acre ponds eight feet deep? I’m sure Agropur’s Canadian colleagues at TransCanada moved more dirt than that when they laid the Keystone pipeline across East River (what, about 33 miles west of Lake Norden?). Can Agropur really not treat and recycle that water, or do they just not want to?

  32. Greg 2018-04-17 12:14

    Chill out HydroGuy, Gduffy responded to MFI with true facts and you have done nothing but show your biased hatred towards a person with an Ag background. Water quality is the responsibility of ag , urban dwellers and industrial users.

  33. Bill Gallagher 2018-06-28 23:21

    Disaster writing all over it We are supposed to believe that waste water is going to improve the Sioux river. Where a they getting all this water from in the first place

  34. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-06-29 07:19

    If I’m understanding the Statement of Basis (linked above), much of the water is “cow water,” water evaporated from the milk and “used to wash and sanitize the equipment before discharging to Agropur Inc.’s wastewater treatment plant.”

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