Category Archives: Water

Des Moines Water Works’ concerns are legitimate

By Executive Director Ralph Rosenberg

Yesterday, the Des Moines Water Works Board of Trustees voted unanimously to pursue a lawsuit against the Board of Supervisors in Sac, Buena Vista and Calhoun counties in their role as governing authority for 10 drainage districts that are discharging pollution into the Raccoon River, threatening Des Moines’ drinking water. This decision comes at the expiration of the issuance of a mandatory 60 day notice of intent to sue and unsuccessful efforts to address the issue under the current voluntary strategy.

Des Moines Waterworks (DMWW) has legitimate concerns about the operations of the drainage districts in the three counties in northern Iowa named in the lawsuit. These drainage districts contribute to high nitrate concentrations in the Raccoon River which create a significant treatment challenge for DMWW to provide safe drinking water to their customers. We share DMWW’s concern about the lack of urgency and measurable progress to reduce the nitrate pollution these drainage districts are sending downstream.

A Des Moines Register poll conducted last month found 63 percent of Iowans believe DMWW should pursue a lawsuit against drainage districts in northwest Iowa. It’s clear that Iowans want to see increased action on achieving measurably cleaner water in the state, and the lawsuit raises important questions about the effectiveness of Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy in achieving measurably cleaner water.

For the past two years, the Council has called for improvements to strengthen the all-voluntary strategy to address Iowans’ concerns about the lack of local goals, timelines with benchmarks, consistent water quality testing and assessment to gauge progress, and sustainable funding for implementation. Perhaps DMWW would not have found it necessary to file suit against the three counties in northern Iowa had the state’s leaders taken meaningful action to address these concerns.

While the lawsuit works its way through the courts, we will continue to call for these improvements, and work collaboratively with elected officials, agricultural groups, individual farmers and landowners, environmental groups and other diverse stakeholders to ensure Iowa’s water quality is improving.

America Needs Clean Water

America Needs Clean Water T-shirt and stickers are now available at RAYGUN.

America Needs Clean Water T-shirt and stickers are now available at RAYGUN.

America Needs Farmers and Clean Water, and thanks to our neighbors up the street at RAYGUN, you can show off your style and support for protecting Iowa’s lakes, rivers and streams with their recently released ANCW T-shirt and stickers.

And the best part? Not only will you look and feel good wearing it, you’ll be doing good, too. RAYGUN will generously donate a portion of the sales of both the T-shirts and the stickers to the Iowa Environmental Council. Pick your ANCW goods up here: http://bit.ly/ANCW_IA

We’d love to see your ANCW pride. Snap a photo of yourself wearing your ANCW T-shirt or displaying your ANCW sticker, tag the Council and use the hashtag #ANCW_IA

We look forward to seeing environmentalists, farmers, outdoor recreationalists and sportsmen, health advocates, business owners, students, educators, urban and rural dwellers alike showing their support for clean water!

An important session for Iowa’s environment

We’re half way into the second week of the 2015 Iowa Legislative Session, and the Council has been busy meeting with our partners and state’s elected officials to advocate for public policy that promotes a safe, healthy environment for all Iowans.

This session, we will continue to advocate for legislation that advances and protects programs and policies that support clean water, expand renewable energy and protect our state’s natural resources.

We will push for policies that support a transition to clean energy including wind, solar and energy efficiency; and lobby for legislation that improves water quality and reduces pollutants, resulting in water that is clean and safe for drinking, recreation and wildlife. Programs and policies we support will protect Iowa’s environment, and improve our state’s health, quality of life and economic opportunities.

You may read about our Water and Energy Program’s legislative areas of focus this year on our website:

> 2015 Water & Land Stewardship Legislative Priorities
> 2015 Clean Energy Legislative Priorities

We look forwarding to continuing to give Iowans a voice on these issues, and to connecting you to opportunities to be heard – including the one that exists right now.

Now is the time to remind our elected officials that there are constituents who care about clean water, renewable energy and climate change. Legislators may hear from other groups that these problems are not really problems, or that the problems are being taken care of, they just need time. But evidence to the contrary can be found in Iowa’s waterways, land and air.

Find your legislator here

Let your legislators know you care about Iowa’s natural resources, share your personal story, and ask what they will do to promote, advance and protect programs and policies that foster a safe, healthy environment and sustainable future for Iowa.

Iowans want action, not excuses

Today, the Water Resources and Coordinating Council (WRCC), which exists to “preserve and protect Iowa’s water resources, and to coordinate the management of those resources in a sustainable and fiscally responsible manner,” held its bi-monthly meeting.

For the past year, the Iowa Environmental Council has attended these meetings (as it did today) and called upon the Water Resources Coordinating Council (WRCC) to set a timeline and local goals to reach the 45% statewide reduction goal set forth in Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy (NRS). Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey has repeatedly failed to take a vote, or even attempt to gain consensus among WRCC members, to do so. Today was no different. Unfortunately refusing to acknowledge or address the issue does not cause it to cease to exist.

If the WRCC and 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, consistent water quality monitoring, 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.

We can blame nature, high rainfall or any other variety of factors, but this response won’t solve the problem. Iowans want to see actions, not excuses. Excuses don’t solve problems. The NRS is a voluntary strategy, and no watersheds in Sac, Calhoun of Buena Vista counties volunteered, so no WQI watershed projects have been proposed. How does the NRS plan to address water quality issues in these areas and others like them? These are questions the public wants and deserves to have answered.

The Iowa Environmental Council will continue to give voice to Iowan’s concerns about the state’s plan to reduce pollution in our lakes and rivers threatening safe drinking water and outdoor recreation, and call upon the WRCC to take the steps necessary to ensure we are making meaningful, scientifically-verifiable progress on achieving clean water in Iowa.

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.