SIOUX FALLS - A cheesemaker's plan to expand operations in eastern South Dakota is running into some opposition following its request to dump millions of gallons of wastewater daily into the Big Sioux River.

Wisconsin-based Agropur needs a permit from South Dakota environmental officials to release wastewater into the river. Agropur announced earlier this year the company is expanding its facility in Lake Norden and upgrading its wastewater treatment plant.

The cheese manufacturer's plans call for dumping up to two million gallons of wastewater a day into the nearby Big Sioux River watershed.

But some environmentalists and water systems officials in the region argue that the move could put drinking water supplies downstream at risk, the Argus Leader reported.
They're concerned with the nitrate levels that will accompany the wastewater when it's put into the river.

The South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources received 14 letters opposing Agropur's permit application during the public comment period that ended May 11, said surface water discharge specialist Al Spangler.

State law doesn't cap the amount of nitrates that a permit holder can place into the river, but it requires nitrate levels to be monitored and reported to the department.

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Jay Gilbertson, manager at East Dakota Water Development District, said the regulation doesn't mitigate the impact that nitrate-filled wastewater can have on downstream communities relying on the watershed for drinking water.

"Given the fact that these water systems serve a significant portion of the state's population, we believe it prudent to plan ahead, rather than deal with the consequences when things go bad," said Kurt Pfeifle, executive director of the South Dakota Association of Rural Water Systems.

Tim Czmowski, vice president of Agropur's Midwest operations, said the plans comply with state and federal law. He said the company will also follow any recommendations or discharge limits, as long as they're reasonable.

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