The Iowa Court of Appeals on Wednesday upheld a $700,000 jury award to a Clayton County couple who said stray voltage from power lines made their cows get sick and produce less milk.

Daniel and Coleen Martins had sued Interstate Power Company, which operated a substation near the farm. Court records say that beginning in 1989 the Martins’ cows showed “very strange behavior,” including lower milk production and a series of illnesses and injuries. The Martins suspected stray voltage, but Interstate Power said tests showed no problem, the records say.

In 1996, a gas company installing a plastic pipeline on the farm found abnormal levels of electric current in the line, according to court records. By 1997, the herd had been moved to another farm. The cows gained weight and milk production increased, the records say.

The Martins sued the power company, saying it had operated a nuisance that caused them losses. A Clayton County jury agreed and awarded them $700,000.

Interstate Power appealed, saying the company could not be liable for a nuisance if it had not been shown to be negligent. The appeals court rejected that argument.

“Suffice to say that issues relating to nuisances do not appear on the sea of tranquility,” the court said. “Rather, it appears whenever nuisance concerns are presented they land in troubled waters.” Evidence favored the couple's claim that the company had operated a nuisance, the court said.

Adam Martins, the couple's son, said Wednesday the cows are thriving in their new location, the family's new farm about two miles from the old farm.

Des Moines Register