Category Archives: Water

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.

Clean Sweep for the Iowa Environmental Council— Back to back Iowa Supreme Court Victories

Victory #1 — Clean Water regulation and Citizen Participation in State Government  

The Iowa Supreme Court today ruled today in favor of clean water by upholding Iowa’s Clean Water Anti-Degradation Standards. In a well-reasoned, and thoughtful decision, the Court   upheld the rulemaking process that established the state’s clean water anti-degradation standards, keeping rules in place that are designed to protect some of Iowa’s most important lakes and waterways.

 The ruling ends the Farm Bureau’s lawsuit effort to delay or overturn the rules –which were enacted in an open and fair rulemaking process. As required by the federal Clean Water Act, Iowa’s common-sense anti-degradation standards will remain in place. Iowans are impatient on cleaning up impaired waters and preventing future pollution. Iowans can now focus on successfully implementing the rules and the ongoing work that will achieve clean water goals.

 “We are grateful to the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, the Department of Natural Resources and our environmental partners for standing up to the Farm Bureau’s efforts to throw out the rules,” said Ralph Rosenberg, executive director of the Iowa Environmental Council. “This issue is greater than clean water protection. This was an effort to shut out citizen participation in government by a powerful business interest like the Farm Bureau.”

 Four years ago, Iowa adopted strong “anti-degradation” standards – an important but often ignored part of the Clean Water Act designed to keep unnecessary pollution out of clean waterways. However, the Farm Bureau   challenged these important standards and even issued intrusive subpoenas to intimidate local environmentalists and challenge the Environmental Protection Commission by trying to disqualify one of its members, Susan Heathcote, water program director of the Iowa Environmental Council. Lower courts have since thrown out the Farm Bureau’s legal challenges.

 “This is a clear win for clean water and for open and fair government,” said Environmental Law & Policy Center Senior Attorney Brad Klein, who argued the case before the Supreme Court. “We’re grateful that the Court rejected the Farm Bureau’s attempts to harass and intimidate the Council and Susan Heathcote. This important ruling means that we can put the Farm Bureau’s attempts to delay and distract behind us and move on to protect some of Iowa’s most important lakes, rivers and streams.


 

Victory #2 Protecting Solar Energy Choice and Supporting Small Scale Renewable Energy

In the second of two victories for the Environmental Council, the Court ruled that Iowans can offer their roof space to solar energy developers and buy the power created from those panels. The Council, according to Ralph Rosenberg, “welcomes the decision which held that third party payer arrangements are an important option for expanding renewable energy, along with tax incentives, grants, loans and other financing mechanisms.”

“Today’s decision is a win for Iowans because it gives everyone the option to go solar affordably,” said Brad Klein, senior attorney with the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC), who argued the case last spring on behalf of a large coalition of solar energy and environmental advocates. “Across the country, families, businesses and communities have gone solar with third-party ownership. Now, that opportunity can come to Iowa, too.”

In 2011, Alliant Energy argued that an agreement between Dubuque-based Eagle Point Solar and the City of Dubuque violated the utility’s monopoly territory. Under the agreement, Eagle Point agreed to install and maintain solar panels on the Dubuque City Council building, the City would then pay Eagle Point for the energy created by those panels. The utility argued that the agreement, known as a third-party power purchase agreement (PPA) amounted to the creation of a utility. This claim was rejected by the court.

In his majority opinion, Justice Appel wrote that “Third-party PPAs like the one proposed by Eagle Point actually further one of the goals of regulated electric companies, namely, the use of energy efficient and renewable energy sources.”   

 Rosenberg, the Council director, noted that like the Farm Bureau case, this decision was thoughtful, well-reasoned and supported Iowa values and priorities of the Council—in this case, increasing the use of energy efficiency and renewable energy, while decreasing reliance on carbon based fuels.

 A recent report by the Iowa Environmental Council, Real Potential, Ready Today: Solar Energy in Iowa highlighted the significant potential for solar energy in Iowa. Iowa is already starting to see the rapid growth of solar–highlighted by the bi-partisan support for tripling of funding available for state tax credits for solar energy installation.

 “The fact that the court agrees with our analysis of the law means good things for the future of solar in Iowa,”   Josh Mandelbaum, staff attorney with ELPC’s Des Moines office added.

 

 The Iowa Supreme Court‘s full opinions are available on the Iowa Judicial Branch website.

 http://www.iowacourts.gov/About_the_Courts/Supreme_Court/Supreme_Court_Opinions/Recent_Opinions/20140711/index.asp

 

Severe erosion and lack of conservation progress cause for alarm among Iowa experts

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Former Iowa Environmental Council executive director Linda Appelgate captured this image of a corn field eroding into the Nishnabotna river in 2010. According to the Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll, nearly 80% of Iowa farmers agree they need to do more to “reduce nutrient and sediment runoff into streams and lakes.”

Last week was Soil and Water Conservation Week in Iowa, a time to reflect on how well we are protecting one of Iowa’s most precious natural resources.  Unfortunately, soil erosion remains a serious problem in our state. Recently several top experts on Iowa soil conservation weighed in and expressed alarm about the state of our soil.

The Iowa Daily Erosion Project can create estimates of soil erosion the morning after a rainfall event occurs.  Here, estimates are shown for a 2-day precipitation event on April 12-13, 2014.  Still, without advances in modeling, project manager Rick Cruse says these models do not tell the whole story of Iowa soil erosion.

The Iowa Daily Erosion Project can create estimates of soil erosion the morning after a rainfall event occurs. Here, estimates are shown for a 2-day precipitation event on April 12-13, 2014.   Still, without advances in modeling, project manager Rick Cruse says these estimates do not tell the whole story of Iowa soil erosion.

Most unsettling was a reminder from Iowa State University agronomist Rick Cruse that our present methods of estimating soil erosion are badly flawed and may be missing between 20 and 90% of the erosion in the state.  In total, Cruse estimates the economic harm to agricultural yields Iowa suffers from historic soil erosion may be as great as $1 billion each year–harm that will grow as erosion continues.

Cruse, who manages the Iowa Daily Erosion Project, said current models only account erosion that occurs evenly across the soil’s surface and fail to account for ephemeral gullies that form when heavy rainwater forms channels and washes out a trench along a slope.  He answered questions about soil erosion recently in the Des Moines Register and spoke about his research at length in an Iowa Learning Farms webinar, which is available free online.

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