Rosenberg: Questions linger about effectiveness of new state water plan

Image shows a thick mat of green algae with the text "Let's clean this up!"Thursday morning, Karl Brooks, Region 7 Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, released his agency’s comments (.pdf) on Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy, a new attempt to take on the state’s widespread nitrogen and phosphorous pollution problem.  While Administrator Brooks called the strategy “a great start,” he went on to recommend numerous changes to Iowa’s plan.

After reviewing EPA’s comments, Iowa Environmental Council executive director Ralph Rosenberg made the following statement:

Ralph Rosenberg

Ralph Rosenberg is the executive director of the Iowa Environmental Council.

“The Iowa Environmental Council has consistently called on state government leaders to set clearer goals for establishing accountability and measuring success for cleaner water not only for the Gulf of Mexico but also in Iowa’s rivers and lakes.  Iowa’s strategy fails to set measurable goals and compounds this problem by omitting a concrete implementation plan.    Without a better plan, Iowans will lack confidence meaningful action will occur.

“Now, the EPA, too, has pointed out numerous areas where Iowa should state more clearly what it hopes to accomplish, and by when.  The agency also restated its belief that clean water standards, or numeric criteria, ‘are important tools for effective water quality management of nutrient pollution,’ an approach Iowa’s strategy seeks to avoid or discredit.

“State officials have provided Iowans until January 18 to comment on the strategy, which was developed mostly behind closed doors over two years.  After that date, I am hopeful the state will announce an open, participatory public process to resolve serious lingering concerns over whether Iowa’s strategy is designed to deliver clean water.”

Among the additions and clarifications the EPA requested be included in Iowa’s plan are:

  • More detail about how conservation systems “could be targeted for use on the most vulnerable lands,”
  • More information on the benefits of agricultural best management practices, rather than just the costs,
  • A schedule for implementing “accountability and verification measures,”
  • More detail about “explicitly… how progress will be monitored/measured,” and
  • “specific action steps, milestones and timelines for implementation of actions included in the strategy.”

Rosenberg also outlined the Iowa Environmental Council’s position on the Nutrient Strategy in a recent opinion piece in the Des Moines Sunday Register, and the Council maintains a website with resources related to the strategy.

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