Category Archives: Water

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.

Soil is the foundation of a healthy state

This post was written by Agricultural Policy Specialist Jennifer Terry

The Midwest is known for being one of the friendliest regions in the country, and for the most part, the reputation is well-deserved. It’s not uncommon for strangers to exchange pleasantries as they pass each other on the street, or to see someone lend a hand to a neighbor in need, and we should apply the same care and consideration to the resources we share, including our land and water.

Today is World Soil Day and the start of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization International Year of Soil. Both events celebrate soil and aim to raise awareness of the importance of healthy soils for food systems, agriculture and the environment.

If Iowans care about their communities (and I think we do), we should care about out watersheds, because a watershed is just that – a community. Urban or rural, everyone is a watershed neighbor, and protecting our soil is an important part of being a good watershed neighbor.

Healthy soil is quite literally the foundation of a healthy state, and in Iowa where a large percentage of our land is used for agriculture, healthy soil plays a huge role in improving our water quality. This in turn improves our health, environment and economy.

Healthy soil is capable of holding water longer, helping mitigate flooding in towns and farms downstream, and aiding communities in combating washed-out roads, bridges and a myriad of other flood-related problems.

Additionally, because of its ability to hold water, healthy soil helps prevent water from washing away down the watershed, carrying with it excess nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus. According to Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy – which aims to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in our lakes and rivers – 92% of nutrient runoff is from agricultural land. This runoff causes toxic algae blooms in our state’s lakes and rivers that can make our water unsafe for drinking, swimming and outdoor recreation.

To effectively protect our soils and prevent agricultural runoff, Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy must include clear local goals, timelines and water quality testing to measure progress, as well as sustained funding not subject to the Governor’s veto. All elements it is currently lacking.

A farmer once told me “My farm isn’t Las Vegas; I know what happens here doesn’t stay here.” He’s right, and when we neglect soil health we all lose.

So today, as we celebrate the many benefits soil provides to our state, let’s engage in bold discussions about how we can work together to create meaningful, measurable solutions that improve soil health and water quality.

Iowa Environmental Council to Partake in National Discussion about the Future of Food

This blog post was written by Water Program Director Susan Heathcote.

Tomorrow, a diverse group of producers, environmentalists, businesses and academics concerned with the issues and opportunities currently facing U.S. agriculture – including the Iowa Environmental Council – will gather in Washington D.C. to discuss the future of farms and food.

The public forum, “A Better Path from Farm to Fork: Policy Solutions for the Future of Food,” is co-hosted by National Geographic and AGree, an initiative that seeks to drive positive change in the food and agriculture system by connecting and challenging leaders from diverse communities to catalyze action and elevate food and agriculture as a national priority.

Last Monday, Nov. 10, AGree released three new consensus recommendations on Working Landscapes, Food and Nutrition and International Development. These recommendations are intended to serve as roadmaps for action.

The public forum, which will discuss policy solutions, food and agriculture partnerships and AGree’s recommendations, will be held at National Geographic’s D.C. headquarters from 3:30 – 5 p.m. Central Time. AGree will be live streaming the event at http://www.foodandagpolicy.org/livestream.

A partners Forum that will include leaders from more than 100 organizations, will also be held on Wednesday, November 19.

I have been serving on the Advisory Committee for the AGree Initiative on Agriculture and Food Policy for the past three years. In my work with AGree, I have been most actively engaged in the AGree workgroup on Working Landscapes. This workgroup was tasked with providing policy recommendations on how the US can improve agricultural production to feed a growing world population while also improving environmental outcomes.

In Iowa, over 90% of our land area is dedicated to agricultural production. Agriculture has a big foot print on the Iowa landscape, so we have a big stake in the management of agricultural land to produce not just food, fiber and fuel, but also clean water, air and diverse habitat for plants, animals and people.

The AGree Initiative is an opportunity to work with a diverse coalition to find common ground on controversial issues and develop shared strategies for achieving transformative change. Our goal is to help advance a future that supports productive and profitable farms where soil, water and biodiversity are conserved and enhanced; and environmental quality is improved.

AGree differs from other initiatives seeking to address similar issues in two ways – it’s approach and long-term commitment.

AGree used an integrated approach to identify opportunities that will result in mutually beneficial outcomes for its various stakeholders, thus promoting cooperation and better positioning itself for long-term shared success.

Additionally, nine foundations made a long-term commitment to not only working together to create and make recommendations, but to then take the lead to implement and invest their own resources in these recommendations with the overarching goal of creating transformative change.

To learn more about AGree and Working Landscapes, visit their website.

Protect Our Waterways – support the proposed Clean Water Act rules

The U.S. EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have proposed new Clean Water Act rules that clarify - not broaden - which waters are protected under the Clean Water Act, including headwater streams and wetlands adjacent to rivers.

The U.S. EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have proposed new Clean Water Act rules that clarify – not broaden – which waters are protected under the Clean Water Act, including headwater streams and wetlands adjacent to rivers.

As reported in today’s Des Moines Register, Governor Branstad’s office recently submitted a letter to the U.S. EPA and Army Corps of Engineers regarding the proposed Clean Water Act rules.

The Iowa Environmental Council disagrees with Governor Branstad’s characterization of the rules in his letter and his assertion that the rule should be withdrawn. We strongly support the rules, which clarify which waters are protected under the Clean Water Act, including small headwater streams that flow into larger rivers and to wetlands adjacent to these rivers.

These small streams and wetlands help reduce flooding, supply drinking water, filter pollution and provide critical support and habitat for fish and wildlife in downstream waters.

Iowans want clean water, and these rules advance that goal. We believe that the stakeholder meetings convened by the Governor should have included representation from groups who support federal protections for our waters, including people who drink, fish, swim and boat in our waters. As we know all too well in Des Moines, many pollutants affecting the quality of our drinking water  come from small streams that flow into the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers, in some cases crossing state borders. A strong Clean Water Act is needed that clarifies these headwater streams are protected.

Help protect some of our country’s most important waters. Submit your public comments to the U.S. EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in support of the proposed Clean Water Act rules today. Public Comments are being accepted through Friday, November 14.

Help Protect Iowa’s Lakes

Last summer, 150 Iowans took action and submitted comments in support of our petition that asked DNR to set standards for nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in the state’s recreation lakes. This pollution, which is primarily caused by farm runoff, produces dangerous algae blooms that make our water unsafe for swimmers and pets.

DNR denied our petition, stating that standards for nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in Iowa’s lakes were “not necessary at this time.” We disagree and suspect you do, too. Good news: Iowans now have another opportunity to weigh in on DNR’s water quality priorities.

This week, DNR will begin holding public water quality meetings across the state giving Iowans the opportunity to provide input on the agency’s work plan to improve Iowa’s water quality standards. Written comments are also being accepted through October 15, 2014.

Your input is extremely important because once finalized, this work plan will determine how DNR’s limited staff resources will be utilized over the next THREE YEARS.

Attend one of the meetings or submit written comments to DNR Water Quality Standards Coordinator Rochelle Weiss by email or mail:

Rochelle.Weiss@dnr.iowa.gov

Rochelle Weiss
Iowa Department of Natural Resources
502 East Ninth St.
Des Moines, IA  50319

UPCOMING MEETINGS

Spencer
Sept. 3, 4 to 6 p.m.
Spencer Public Library (Round Room), 21 East Third St.

Washington
Sept. 4, 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.
Washington Public Library (Nicholas Stoufer Room), 115 West Washington

West Des Moines
Sept. 8, 10 to 12 p.m.
West Des Moines Public Library (Community Room), 4000 Mills Civic Parkway

Clear Lake
Sept. 9, 4 to 6 p.m.
Clear Lake Chamber of Commerce Lakeview Room, 10 North Lakeview Drive

Independence
Sept. 9, 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.
Falcon Civic Center, 1305 Fifth Ave. NE

Since 2006, Iowa DNR had recorded 114 instances of dangerous algae blooms at Iowa swimming beaches, including 22 warnings this summer alone. The worst algae bloom this summer occurred at Black Hawk Lake in Sac County where DNR posted warnings about toxic algae blooms for seven straight weeks, including Labor Day weekend.

Setting standards to limit nitrogen and phosphorus pollution that is causing frequent algae blooms in Iowa lakes is our top priority for improving Iowa’s Water Quality Standards. The problem is not going to go away until we take action to limit the pollution causing the algae blooms. Ask DNR to make setting standards for nitrogen and phosphorus pollution a priority, and protect our lakes for future generations of Iowans.