Meeting clean water goals requires greater commitment to livestock facility inspections

Two fish in an Iowa waterway died during a manure spill.

Manure spills can wreak havoc on aquatic ecosystems. According to the Council’s analysis, illegal manure spills killed more than 1.2 million fish in Iowa in the last ten years.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is poised to take on a major EPA-mandated inspection effort to ensure thousands of Iowa livestock facilities are not discharging manure into Iowa’s waters.  But as DNR prepares for this new responsibility, it does so with far fewer staff than necessary, said Ralph Rosenberg, the Iowa Environmental Council’s executive director.


Take action on this issue by telling your state representatives Iowa needs enough livestock inspectors to adequately protect our rivers and lakes.


“Since 2009, Iowa has substantially reduced the number of livestock facility inspectors protecting the state’s rivers and lakes to the point where we are already concerned about inadequate oversight,” Rosenberg said.  “Now, with this much-awaited round of new inspections set to begin, the under-staffing at DNR demands urgent attention.”


spill-map-for-blogThe Council has prepared a new fact sheet on the need for more livestock inspectors, and we offer an interactive map of the impact harmful manure spills have had in your county in the last decade.


The new inspection effort is necessary after the federal Environmental Protection Agency identified numerous shortcomings in Iowa’s Clean Water Act oversight of livestock facilities last summer.  A draft agreement between the EPA and DNR calls on the state agency to complete enhanced inspections of about 8,000 facilities, reaching 20% of the operations—almost 1,600—each year for five years.

Rosenberg said 13 inspectors, a number that restores past staff reductions and more closely matches DNR’s own initial assessment of its need, would better align the agency’s resources with the size of its task.

“This is not an effort where DNR can drop everything, catch up quickly, then move on,” said Rosenberg.  “Completing the new inspections requires a multi-year commitment from the DNR which will put substantial pressure on the department’s resources.  Providing adequate staff is critical so the department can still meet its other responsibilities.”

Rosenberg explained the DNR originally indicated it would seek 13 additional staff members; after the Governor’s budget provided lesser funding, DNR has suggested it will attempt to re-focus its priorities to move forward with fewer staff.  Rosenberg said the Council and its partners are concerned that without the 13 additional staff, DNR could be forced to weaken its efforts in other areas, such as responding to livestock producer questions and citizen complaints, to complete its new task.

“Protecting water quality in Iowa’s rivers and lakes is the responsibility of state government,” Rosenberg said.  “We have to provide our state agencies the resources they need to enforce existing laws.”

According to previous analysis by the Iowa Environmental Council, manure spills killed more than 1.2 million fish in Iowa waters in the last decade, including 24 spills that killed more than 10,000 fish in a single incident.  Findings from that analysis are summarized on the Council’s website, iaenvironment.org.

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One response to “Meeting clean water goals requires greater commitment to livestock facility inspections

  1. To protect our waters, Iowans support fair and adequate enforcement of common sense laws. Inspections can translate into preventing problems and cleaning up our waters.