Summit Ag wells could pump massive amount of water in Kossuth County

Nancy Dugan lives in Altoona, Iowa and has worked as an online editor for the past twelve years.

Summit Agricultural Group operates at least seventeen wells in Kossuth County alone that have not applied for water use permits through the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) Water Allocation Compliance and Online (WACOP) permitting system, Bleeding Heartland has learned.

The DNR confirmed the lack of permit applications in response to questions prompted by landowner Alan Laubenthal’s October 5 testimony at the Iowa Utilities Board’s evidentiary hearing in Fort Dodge on Summit Carbon Solutions’ proposed CO2 pipeline.

“The department has not received permit applications for these facilities,” DNR outreach and marketing bureau chief Tammie Krausman confirmed in a November 3 email. “It is the applicant’s responsibility to know if they need a permit and apply according to the requirements. The requirement is 25,000 gallons in a 24-hour period. While facilities are capable of pumping more than 25,000 gallons per day, the permit requirement is based on the actual usage of water.”

The DNR’s laissez-faire approach to regulatory oversight is not lost on Wally Taylor, a Cedar Rapids attorney who also serves as legal chair of the Sierra Club’s Iowa chapter. “The absurdity is that the DNR depends on the operation to decide if it needs a permit. So an operation is free to ignore the law and the DNR will do nothing about it.”

Perhaps even more surprising, massive amounts of water appear to be drawn from these Summit Ag wells at no cost, according to Kossuth County environmental health sanitarian Aaron Montag. “The only payment would be for the [DNR] permit,” he explained. “They would possibly have to pay for water use if they were in a rural water district but that’s not the case here in Kossuth County.”

A statewide search of the WACOP permitting system using the term “Summit” yielded no results. It appears there are no permitted wells in Iowa directly associated with the Summit name.

The chart below lists the seventeen Kossuth County Summit Ag-affiliated wells and gallons-per-minute capacities. The Iowa Geological Survey website lists Summit Farms as the owner name for all of these wells, and identifies them all as livestock wells. (Typically, these are Summit Ag hog facilities, which often house just under 5,000 animals being fattened for market.)

Interestingly, thirteen of the seventeen wells were drilled in July 2021 or thereafter. Combined, those seventeen wells are capable of pumping 725 gallons of water per minute.

Unpermitted Summit Ag wells in Kossuth County: Iowa Geological Survey data

Well numberOwner nameGallons per minuteDriller’s log date
76921Summit Farms45 gpm11.22.2013
91753Summit Farms40 gpm7.31.2019
91757Summit Farms40 gpm8.2.2019
91758Summit Farms40 gpm8.6.2019
95384Summit Farms40 gpm7.28.2021
95385Summit Farms50 gpm7.30.2021
95386Summit Farms50 gpm8.7.2021
95761Summit Farms40 gpm10.8.2021
95773Summit Farms40 gpm10.20.2021
95895Summit Farms50 gpm11.6.2021
95896Summit Farms40 gpm11.16.2021
95897Summit Farms50 gpm11.18.2021
95910Summit Farms30 gpm11.24.2021
96269Summit Farms50 gpm (taken from driller’s log; “No water production found” under Water; well status listed as “Active”)8.03.2022
96771Summit Farms40 gpm10.29.2021 (date listed on website)
96772Summit Farms40 gpm10.31.2022
100979Summit Farms40 gpm3.5.2023
Total:  725 gpm 
Chart created by Nancy Dugan using Iowa Geological Survey data

Using the same math an earlier Bleeding Heartland article employed to calculate Summit Carbon Solutions’ potential water use at carbon capture facilities, and assuming these seventeen facilities are operational around the clock, 365 days a year, the combined potential estimated water withdrawal rate for Summit Ag-affiliated wells in Kossuth County alone would be 381 million gallons per year.

  • 725 gallons of water per minute multiplied by 1,440 (the number of minutes in a day) is equal to 1,044,000 gallons of water per day.
  • 1,044,000 gallons of water per day multiplied by 365 (the number of days in a year) is equal to 381,060,000 gallons of water per year.

Although these calculations are only estimates, it is difficult to imagine that these facilities should not be permitted given the typical capacity of just under 5,000 hogs at such operations. Additionally, because the state is not monitoring these wells, there is no publicly available data to gauge use patterns and volumes.

It is not known why so many of these wells have been drilled since 2021.

During his October 5 testimony, Laubenthal, a Kossuth County farmer whose residence is approximately 500 feet from the proposed Summit Carbon pipeline, wondered why the route couldn’t be moved north onto property where some landowners have already signed easements. The move would place the route in closer proximity to three Summit Ag-affiliated hog facilities identified by Laubenthal during his testimony.

Attorney Brian Jorde (left) questions landowner Alan Laubenthal during the October 5 evidentiary hearing in Fort Dodge (screenshot courtesy of Bold Nebraska)

The slender white line running horizontally across the map shown next to Laubenthal in this screenshot, with a raised extension in the center of a red rectangle, is the proposed Summit Carbon CO2 pipeline. Laubenthal’s residence is located just beneath that raised extension. The three white structures to the north, from left to right, are Summit Pork III, LLP; Mountain Ventures, LLP; and Summit Pork IV, LLP facilities.

According to a Google search, the facilities are within approximately two and one-half miles of each other, and they run roughly parallel to the proposed Summit Carbon pipeline in Kossuth County. The proposed pipeline route lies between these three facilities and Laubenthal’s residence to the south. As shown, the proposed Summit Carbon pipeline was considerably closer to Laubenthal’s property than the Summit hog facilities as of October 5.

Combined, these three facilities (site numbers 64647, 71736, and 67281) are approved by the DNR to house 14,798 swine, and each facility has a well that is capable of producing 40 to 50 gallons of water per minute according to data found on the Iowa Geological Survey website. In other words, just north of Laubenthal, these three wells are capable of drawing a total of approximately 130 gallons of water per minute.

Two of these facilities’ wells are listed on the Iowa Geological Survey website under the name Summit Farms (well numbers 95773 and 95895) and are included in the chart above. A third can be found under the name Jordan Grimm (well number 76756). The Grimm well is not included in the chart because according to Kossuth County’s Montag, ownership information and other data have apparently not yet been updated following Summit’s purchase of the facility in 2022. Additionally, it is unclear whether this well is permitted.

According to the DNR:

A water use permit is required of any person or entity that withdraws at least 25,000 gallons in a 24-hour period during any calendar year. The permit lists the amount of water allowed to be withdrawn each year by the permittee, and is valid for 10 years. Water Use Permits are typically issued to public water supply systems, industries, agricultural business, irrigation (both agricultural and golf courses), recreational areas, gravel quarry dewatering, etc.

At the October 5 evidentiary hearing, landowner attorney Brian Jorde questioned Laubenthal about his concerns.

Q. And that’s, I take it, based on – the first reason probably is because it has to do with reliance on them, working with them, and using your time and energy to try to prove to them what you think they contributed to.

A. Yeah, absolutely. They haven’t tried moving the line all that hard. Because a half mile east of my place there’s a landowner that’s signed on as well. And they own the property a half mile north of my place. So I don’t know why they wouldn’t sign an easement with them.

Summit Ag put a hog site on their farm that they just bought two years ago. So I don’t know why they wouldn’t go sign with them and just route it another half mile north.

There’s no residence up there anywhere. I don’t know why they wouldn’t just try to go through there. It’s a whole mile of no residents. Actually, almost two miles.

Q. Can we Zoom out so we can see it and kind of pull it down a little bit. There we go. Sir, just so we can close the loop on that statement, you said Summit Ag has a hog barn or facility to the north of you?

A. They actually have three of them that you can see on the map the way it is. There’s one a half mile north of me and a little bit east, and that one was just put – [Laubenthal briefly lost Internet service. That portion of the transcript has been omitted.]

Q. But, to finish this area of inquiry, Summit Ag, you’re stating, owns the two hog barns that we can see immediately to the north and east of your targeted parcel on the very dark 40.

A. Correct. Yep. And that was just put up a year, year and a half ago. That site was. And they purchased the one – a mile farther east on the road, they just purchased that one from the landowner of that, oh, between six and eight months ago.

Q. And are there two barns shown just south of that road and then two parcels to the east? Is that what you’re referencing?

A. That’s exactly right. So the L shape, the darker one, from where I live – so in between – that L-shaped one that the cursor just went over. So that landowner signed an easement. And the landowner directly to the east that has that other hog site on it has also signed. So that is a father-son. And the grandfather actually owns the parcel where the new site was put up a year and a half ago across the road kitty-corner to the northwest.

Q. I see. So, if this were, for some reason, approved, you would state that given Summit Ag’s interests and given the willingness, for whatever reason, for these other folks to sign easements or participate in the project generally, that moving the route north away from your ground would be a potential alternative route?

A. Well, it’s a heck of a lot better than being 350 feet from my house. I know that.

Q. And –

A. So yes. I would say, yes, I would agree with that.

Q. And you said the Summit Ag hog facilities immediately to the northeast were put up, you said, like a year and a half or two years ago?

A. Yes, two years ago.

Laubenthal also expressed concerns about water shortages as a result of Summit Carbon’s proposed water use.

Q. And, although I take it you were already opposed to the entire concept for many reasons, had you also known about the water issue would have that made you even more opposed?

A. Absolutely. I have a hard enough time – there’s a sand vein that – you can’t really tell on this aerial imagery, but it kind of loops around and follows the same location as what the county main does that comes through. And I have a hard enough time – in 2012, last year, and this year, that sand vein has a hard time producing anything.

Last year it was about 300 yards wide where it just didn’t produce hardly anything in corn. And this year even the beans were in the 30-bushel range that I harvested just last week. I can’t imagine what that would do to further production – if you take, by my estimation, somewhere around 400 million gallons of water that they want to consume, I can’t imagine that that would anywhere near improve my cropland facilities. And production.

Kossuth County GIS coordinator Luke Snyder prepared a map of Summit Ag-affiliated facilities within a mile of the proposed Summit Carbon CO2 pipeline. The following screenshot of this map shows the three facilities that Laubenthal identified in his testimony. From west to east (left to right), they are Summit Pork III, LLP; Mountain Ventures, LLP; and Summit Pork IV, LLP.

Mountain Ventures was formed in Iowa on October 15, 2021. Summit founder Bruce Rastetter signed off on the Statement of Qualification of Limited Liability Partnership in the capacity of a member of Blue Mountain Ventures, LLC. Summit chief executive officer Justin Kirchhoff signed off in the capacity of a member of Ridge Road Investments, LLC.

Both of these LLCs are listed on the Iowa Secretary of State’s website. In its June 9, 2021, Certificate of Organization, Blue Mountain Ventures states that it holds an interest in agricultural land in Iowa. But in its January 31, 2023, biennial report, Blue Mountain Ventures states that it is not a family farm limited liability company and does not hold an interest in agricultural land in Iowa.

In its November 12, 2020, Certificate of Organization, Ridge Road Investments also states that it holds an interest in agricultural land in Iowa. In both its February 22, 2021, and February 17, 2023, biennial reports, Ridge Road Investments states that it is a family farm limited liability company and holds an interest in agricultural land in Iowa.

Summit Pork I through V, LLP are also affiliated with Summit Agricultural Group. Since 2013, these LLPs have sought to raise $202 million in equity investments, as reflected in SEC Form D filings. In 2022 and 2023, Summit Pork IV and V sought to raise a combined total of $150 million. The chart below details these SEC filings.

Summit Pork LLPs: SEC data

LLPDate of Form D filingInvestment soughtNumber of investors
Summit Pork I, LLP5.3.2013$12 million (equity)2
Summit Pork II, LLP7.18.2018$15 million (equity)1
Summit Pork II, LLP (amended filing)  7.17.2019Unchanged
($15 million, equity)
Summit Pork III, LLP  4.23.2021$25 million (equity)13
Summit Pork IV, LLP7.12.2022$75 million (equity)0
Summit Pork IV, LLP (amended filing)  7.5.2023Unchanged
($75 million, equity)
Summit Pork V, LLP3.24.2023$75 million (equity)0
Total Summit Pork equity investments sought since 2013: $202 million (varies from amounts listed as raised in SEC filings)
Chart created by Nancy Dugan using U.S. Securities Exchange Commission data

Equity investments denote ownership interest in these facilities. Because Summit is a private company, ownership information surrounding these facilities remains a mystery. What is known is that Summit Agricultural Group is in a business partnership with Smithfield Foods. We also know Smithfield has been shuttering hog facilities in Missouri while Summit Ag appears to be simultaneously ramping up hog production in Iowa.

The data presented represents a snapshot of one Iowa county, but similar data may exist in other counties in this state. One thing is clear: massive amounts of water are being used to support Iowa’s immense hog production industry, and it appears likely that no one is regulating much of this use.

About the Author(s)

Nancy Dugan

  • Thank you again, Nancy Dugan

    Following these stories is starting to remind me of a guided tour through an industrial-agriculture version of Dante’s Inferno.