Dead Fish Found In East Nishnabotna River After Fertilizer Spill

The scene of a fertilizer spill last week in Montgomery County. (Courtesy Photo - Red Oak Fire Department).

Iowa Department Of Natural Resources staff are continuing to investigate the New Cooperative fertilizer spill near Red Oak in Montgomery County. The release has been stopped and clean-up efforts are still underway, the DNR reported late last week.

On March 11, New Cooperative in Red Oak notified the DNR of a release on-site. Approximately 1,500 tons of liquid nitrogen fertilizer (32% solution) discharged into a drainage ditch, then into the East Nishnabotna River. The release occurred due to a valve left open on an aboveground storage tank overnight. Dead fish were later observed in the East Nishnabotna.

After careful examination and a thorough search of local records, IDNR records as well as rural water customer records, it’s determined that most residential properties south of Red Oak along the East Nishnabotna River to the county line, receive their water directly from the Southwest Regional Water District and are not directly impacted by the liquid nitrogen spill. 

Officials are aware that the City of Coburg is not on rural water and obtain its water directly from private wells. 

The Montgomery County Public Health Office has been in contact with City of Coburg officials who will be contacting all their residents and providing them with information on how to contact and schedule a test with Public Health.
There is no concern of water pollution within the City of Red Oak. Red Oak City Administrator Kyra Smith said Red Oak’s drinking water would be unaffected.

“I have spoken with Rich Figgins in the water department. He had reported to me that the spill does not affect the city drinking water as we pull from the aquafer and not from the river. The City has outstanding water quality, and it is monitored regularly,” Smith said.

The East Nishnabotna River should avoided for any fishing and/or recreational activities until contamination levels recede.

The product flowed several miles downstream of Red Oak in the East Nishnabotna River, reaching Missouri. The Missouri Department of Natural Resources has been notified.

The DNR encourages private well owners in Montgomery, Page, and Fremont counties with wells in near proximity to the East Nishnabotna River to contact their county health department to test their wells for nitrate. This service is free using Iowa’s Grants-to-Counties (GTC) program.

The DNR will be providing county health officials with lists of registered private wells that may be vulnerable.

Page and Fremont County officials will be going through the same information to determine who to contact for both residential and livestock operations to ensure they have the information provided by IDNR and given the opportunity to schedule a well test. Montgomery County Public Health can be contacted at 623-4893.

Due to low water levels in the East Nishnabotna, the concentration of the liquid nitrogen fertilizer is higher than during normal stream flows, causing concern for all animals due to high nitrate and urea levels.

Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine Toxicologist Scott Radke recommends keeping all animals away from the East Nishnabotna River until the plume of contaminant moves out of the area.

The Iowa DNR is working with local, state and federal officials and will continue to investigate impacts of the spill.


The Opinion-Tribune

116 S Walnut St Glenwood, IA 51534-1665
P.O. Box 377, Red Oak, IA 51566
Phone: 712-527-3191
Phone: 712-623-2566
Fax: 712-527-3193

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