Percentage of assessed Iowa waters found to be impaired increases

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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.

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