Our view: Clean water requires comprehensive approach to livestock inspection, enforcement

After the Des Moines Register published an extensive story outlining shortcomings the Environmental Protection Agency identified in Iowa’s application of Clean Water Act standards to livestock facilities in Iowa, the Council’s executive director, Ralph Rosenberg, wrote this letter to the Register‘s editors:

The Iowa Environmental Council’s review of public records on 262 manure spills that reached waterways from 2001 to 2011 found that Iowa’s strategy for permitting, inspecting, and enforcing standards for livestock facilities does not adequately protect Iowa’s waters from spills that have proven devastating to aquatic life.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is operating with sharply limited resources, and so it prioritizes cases with documented fish kills and citizen complaints for inspection and enforcement. Unfortunately, in some of these cases, DNR has not imposed fines and penalties on farm operators until the agency documents multiple violations at those facilities that sometimes occur even over the course of years.

We also question what threats to Iowa’s waters DNR’s enforcement program, which is complaint and incident driven, may be missing.  Many Iowa waterways already have high and persistent background levels of pollution. When DNR can only focus on acute pollution incidents resulting in complaints and fish kills to direct its enforcement activities, it is unclear when or if other chronic pollution problems will receive attention.

To correct this problem, the Council has called for regular inspections of all large livestock facilities to find and correct problems early before serious spills occur and for stronger penalties for manure spills that pollute our waterways.

But DNR can’t provide adequate oversight of livestock operations without adequate resources. Budget reductions affecting DNR have significantly reduced the number of staff providing oversight of livestock operations from 32 in 2007 to 21 in 2012. The Governor and legislature need to provide additional funds for the agency to protect Iowa waters and meet the requirements of the Clean Water Act.

/s/ Ralph Rosenberg, executive director

Previously on the blog, the Council responded to the issues raised by the EPA a report assessing Iowa’s clean water protections involving livestock facilities.  The Council has also prepared an analysis of the impact manure spills have on Iowa’s waters.


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