Clean Water Rule clarifies protections for streams and wetlands

wetland
Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced the finalization of the Clean Water Rule, which clarifies protections for headwater streams and wetlands under the Clean Water Act. These waterways help reduce flooding, supply drinking water, filter pollution and provide critical habitat for fish and wildlife in downstream waters.

The Council and many of our allies have worked together to build support and advocate for, advance and achieve a these standards for years. This fall, we submitted comments in support of the proposed standards during the public comment period, as did hundreds of Council members and advocates.

“The Clean Water Rule confirms protections for some of our country’s most important and often overlooked waters under the Clean Water Act, one of our best tools for restoring polluted waters and preventing new pollution,” said Water Program Director Susan Heathcote. “U.S. Supreme Court rulings in recent years had created confusion about which streams and wetlands are protected under the law. The Clean Water Rule clears up that confusion.”

The final standard better defines – not broadens – protections under the Clean Water Act. It also clarifies which waters do not fall under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act, including streams that do not contribute flow to downstream waters, irrigation ditches, waste treatment lagoons, agricultural stormwater runoff and groundwater. It does not create new permitting requirements for agriculture, nor does it change existing exemptions and exclusions.

“For the water in the rivers and lakes in our communities that flow to our drinking water to be clean, the streams and wetlands that feed them need to be clean too,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.

“Today’s rule marks the beginning of a new era in the history of the Clean Water Act,” said Assistant Secretary for the Army (Civil Works) Jo-Ellen Darcy. “This is a generational rule and completes another chapter in history of the Clean Water Act. This rule responds to the public’s demand for greater clarity, consistency, and predictability when making jurisdictional determinations. The result will be better public service nationwide.”

Passed by Congress in 1972, the Federal Clean Water Act was created to “restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the nation’s waters by preventing point and nonpoint pollution sources, providing assistance to publicly owned treatment works for the improvement of wastewater treatment, and maintaining the integrity of wetlands.”

Council welcomes back agricultural policy intern

Agricultural Policy Intern Jorgen Rose

Agricultural Policy Intern Jorgen Rose

This week, we had the pleasure of welcoming Jorgen Rose back to the Iowa Environmental Council.

On Monday, Jorgen began his second summer as an agricultural policy intern with the Council. While here, he will work on a variety of agricultural and water policy issues, including analysis and evaluation of Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy and the associated Water Quality Initiative pilot projects.

“Coming from a family of farmers and outdoorsmen, the land and its resources have always been important to me,” Jorgen said. “Water is the most important resource we possess, and agriculture and its associated industries are vital to Iowa’s economy and culture. To work at the crossroads of the two is a rare opportunity to truly make Iowa a better place.”

An Iowa native and a graduate of the University of Northern Iowa, Jorgen is currently a graduate student at Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs, where he is pursuing degrees in environmental science and natural resource policy and management.

Jorgen’s passion for protecting Iowa’s land and water, as well as his skill set and understanding of the issues derived from his academic and professional experiences, make him the perfect fit for this position.

“We are excited to welcome back Jorgen as part of our team,” said Agricultural Policy Specialist Jennifer Terry, who will oversee Jorgen’s internship. “His educational background has prepared him well to work on non-point source nutrient issues in Iowa. We look forward to his analysis, assessment and recommendations on policy affecting the implementation of Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy.”

“My work with the Council last summer exposed me to so many passionate individuals and organizations working to protect Iowa’s natural resources. I learned so much, and I expect to learn even more this summer, especially now that I am more familiar with the issues. Ultimately, the experience that the Council offers cannot be replicated in any classroom,” said Jorgen.

Meet our member organizations: Trees Forever

trees_foreverWelcome to the second entry of Meet Our Member Organizations, our new series that aims to introduce readers to our member organizations and share information about how they are creating a safer, healthier and more sustainable Iowa. The second organization featured in this series today is Trees Forever.

Trees Forever is a non-profit organization that focuses on planting and caring for trees and the environment. Trees Forever was founded in 1989 by current president and CEO Shannon Ramsay, and provides volunteer engagement, education and advocacy to promote healthy trees, forests and prairies. They are based in the Cedar Rapids, Iowa area, and operate in numerous locations across Iowa and Illinois.

“Trees Forever is a hands-on organization that helps communities and volunteers start, implement and sustain projects. We do much more than plant trees,” said Leslie Berckes, Trees Forever’s central Iowa field coordinator. “We also work to improve water quality, promote native plants, diversify urban forests and more though our programs.”

Trees Forever operates in both rural and urban environments. They encourage people to plant a wide range of plants, from homeowners growing various plants in their backyard to farmers diversifying their crops, which benefit both the landowner and Iowa’s environment.

“We encourage rural landowners to plant buffer zones between their farms and rivers to promote clean water and prevent pollution,” Berckes said.

In addition to working with individual landowners, Trees Forever helps to create community forests and encourages community growth. They also produce numerous educational publications and videos, and promote environmental causes.

The Council and Trees Forever have a longstanding successful partnership, and each have grown because of it.

“The Council has helped us stay up-to-date with information we wouldn’t otherwise have access to,” Berckes said. “They have helped us bring our issues to the attention of legislators, and have helped get our message heard.”

Percentage of assessed Iowa waters found to be impaired increases

beach

Recently, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) released a draft of its 2014 list of Iowa’s impaired waterbodies as an informational item on the Environmental Protection Commission (EPC) May meeting agenda. Since the last time the report was filed in 2012, the total number of impaired lakes, rivers and streams has grown from 630 to 725, a 15% increase over two years.

DNR officials cite an increase in the number of waterbodies being assessed as the source of the uptick. However, the percentage of assessed lakes, rivers and streams found to be impaired has also increased from 51% to 55%. For every two waterbodies assessed, one is impaired, meaning it does not meet the water quality standards for one or more of its designated uses. That is not good news for Iowa’s water quality, environment, economy or quality of life. Stagnant improvement of our impaired waters underscores the need to urgent action to reverse this trend.

We support the DNR’s process of measuring impairments in Iowa’s lakes, rivers and streams. This process is appropriate and important. We also support and continue to call for increased monitoring and assessment. We recognize that increased monitoring will likely result in an increase in the number of waterbodies with documented impairments, which is why it is critical to evaluate the percentage of assessed waterbodies found to be impaired to get an accurate picture of water quality trends. Increased monitoring and reporting, especially in the most threatened waters of the state, will result in a better understanding of the status of our waters.

The Environmental Protection Commission will hold its monthly business meeting next Tuesday, May 19. Discussion of the draft of 2014 list of impaired waters is on the agenda. Members of the public are welcome to attend the meeting:

EPC May Business Meeting
Tuesday, May 19, 10 a.m.
Davenport East Branch Library
6000 Eastern Avenue, Davenport, IA
View the meeting details and agenda

Requests to speak during the business meeting Public Participation must be submitted to Jerah Sheets at Jerah.Sheets@dnr.iowa.gov, 502 East 9th Des Moines, IA 50319, 515-313-8909, or in-person by the start of the business meeting. Please indicate who you will be representing (yourself, an association, etc.), the agenda item of interest, and your stance of For, Opposed, or Neutral. There will also be a 45-day public comment period after the meeting, after which DNR will prepare a responsiveness summary of comments received. Changes in the list will be made based on public comments.

The DNR acknowledges that “once added to a state list, the impairment is likely to remain on the list.” This is in part due to the need for a more detailed study of the impaired waters, including the watershed area that may be contributing to the impairment, as well as a lack of long-term, sustainable funding to take action to address the water quality issues.

“Unless a state has authority and the means to reduce levels of nonpoint source pollution, the NPS-related impairments will likely continue to reside on the state’s list of impaired waters,” states the report.

To successfully achieve measurably cleaner water, we will continue our ongoing and multi-year efforts to engage urban and rural stakeholders in conversations about solutions that provide Iowans with quantifiable, verifiable results that can identify where meaningful progress is being made to improve our water quality. We will continue to be outspoken in advocating for sustained funding to support those efforts. Without these improvements, Iowa is unlikely to achieve measurably cleaner water anytime soon.

Recent reports agree: Clean Power Plan would protect public health

Several recently-released, independently-conducted reports concur that reducing carbon pollution would improve public health.

Today, the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) released its annual “Sneezing and Wheezing” report detailing the negative respiratory health impacts of increased ozone and pollen concentrations that are expected to worsen if carbon pollution levels continue to rise.

According to the report, carbon pollution has been linked to increased ragweed pollen levels and contributes to conditions which increase ground-level ozone.  Both ozone and ragweed pollen exacerbate allergies and asthma, serious and costly health issues that affect approximately 50 million and 26 million Americans. Ragweed pollen allergies alone are estimated to contribute to more than 3.8 million missed work and school days per year.

To protect public health, the report recommends adopting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed Clean Power Plan. Expected to be finalized this summer, the Clean Power Plan would establish the first-ever limits on carbon pollution from U.S. power plants (the nation’s largest source of carbon pollution).

Recommendations to adopt a strong Clean Power Plan were also echoed by the American Lung Association (ALA) last month in its annual “State of the Air” report.  The ALA report details progress in improving our nation’s air quality by examining ozone and particle pollution levels across the U.S.  Reducing carbon pollution under the Clean Power Plan would also simultaneously reduce levels of these other harmful pollutants.

The result would be a significant public health benefit, according to researchers at Harvard, Boston and Syracuse Universities.  In a peer-reviewed paper released last week, the researchers found that additional reductions in sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and particulate matter resulting from carbon standards like the Clean Power Plan would help prevent 3,500 premature deaths; 1,000 hospitalizations; and 220 heart attacks per year in the U.S. and avoid 47 premature deaths in Iowa alone.

EPA has estimated that American families will see up to $7 in health benefits for every dollar invested in the Clean Power Plan and, in total, the agency estimates the plan will result in $55 to $93 billion in health and climate benefits.

>> Sneezing and Wheezing Report, NRDC
>> State of the Air, American Lung Association