Under the Nutrient Reduction Strategy, Voluntary = Optional

This week, Des Moines Water Works’ Board of Trustees voted unanimously to issue a notice of intent to sue the Board of Supervisors in Sac, Buena Vista and Calhoun Counties “in their role as governing authority for 10 drainage districts that are discharging pollutants into the Raccoon River,” which threaten Des Moines’ drinking water.  

A public comment period was held at Des Moines Water Works (DMWW) Thursday’s Board of Trustees meeting. Below, Agricultural Policy Specialist Jennifer Terry shares some thoughts and observations from the meeting and what will be necessary to make meaningful progress on achieving clean water in Iowa.

I have no position for or against the lawsuit being instigated by DMWW — I have not read the filing; therefore, it would not be appropriate for me to take a position on the suit. But, I can tell you one thing:

If the state’s leaders had listened to Iowans that raised questions about the all-voluntary Nutrient Reduction Strategy and taken meaningful action to address concerns about the lack of local goals, timelines, transparency and sustainable funding, perhaps Des Moines Water Works (DMWW) wouldn’t have found it necessary to file intent of a lawsuit against three counties in northern Iowa.

It’s easy to see why so many Iowans, including those who spoke during the public comment period at Thursday’s DMWW board meeting, have lost faith in  the ability and sincere intent of those charged with reducing nitrogen and phosphorus in our waterways’ to get the job done. They’re tired of being told to be patient and give the Nutrient Reduction Strategy time to work while receiving no indication of when the state aims to reach the 45% statewide reduction goal as recommended by the recent Inspector General’s report to the EPA.

Iowa’s leaders have failed to require water quality testing at all state-funded Nutrient Reduction Strategy project sites in order to gather scientifically-verifiable evidence that nitrogen and phosphorus are being reduced in Iowa’s waters. In fact, amazingly, some agricultural sectors actively oppose this testing.

Yes, there are many responsible Iowa farmers who are implementing conservation practices on their land, and I am very fortunate to have met many of them. These farmers are true stewards of the land and are working earnestly and aggressively to improve soil health, test nitrates, install buffers and wetlands. Unfortunately, there are thousands of others who aren’t doing any of those things. Conservation is simply optional for most Iowa farmers. The evidence is there in reports of livestock manure runoff and fish kills, washed-out gullies, corn planted on stream banks and into roadside ditches. It’s unthinkable that in 2015 there are still farmers practicing this behavior. How long will it take to get more farmers on board? 10 years? 20 years? 75 years?

If we’re serious about addressing water quality in our state, we must call upon policymakers to:
1.    Support sustained, stable funding, for example, Iowa’s Land and Water Legacy trust fund.
2.    Set a timeline with benchmarks for the 45% statewide reduction.
3.    Require water quality testing at all state-funded Nutrient Reduction Strategy projects and make the aggregated data available to the public.

All over the state, people from all walks of life are demanding credible, scientifically-verifiable proof that nitrogen and phosphorus are being reduced in our waterways. Now, our state’s leaders need to give Iowans proof they are serious about getting the job done.


Comments are closed.