Category Archives: Water

2015 Iowa Legislative Session in Review

Iowa State Capitol
After several weeks of back and forth negotiations, the 2015 Iowa Legislature reached a budget agreement and adjourned earlier this month.

In all, modest but important legislation that supports a more sustainable future was advanced – much of which now awaits the Governor’s signature –but funding and legislative action to support clean water initiatives and expand clean energy left much unfinished business.

Clean Energy

This session, energy staff focused on continuing to build momentum for growth and expanded access to clean energy in Iowa. This work culminated in the passage HF645. This modest but important bill, which currently awaits the Governor’s signature, would increase available solar energy tax incentive funds from $4.5M to $5M and make improvements to the 476C production tax credit for solar energy, which can be used to support community solar energy projects. If signed into law, HF645 will improve access to solar energy for businesses, farmers, homeowners and utilities.

>>Ask Gov. Branstad to expand access to solar energy by signing HF645<<

The Council supported legislation that would expand and improve tax incentives for wind energy. While these bills did not pass, key bills remain alive for the 2016 session. There were successes for wind energy however, as bills designed to stop critical infrastructure improvements for expanding wind energy – new transmission lines intended for wind – also did not pass.

Finally, the Council helped improve a bill, HF 548, that would have imposed expensive and unnecessary requirements on customers installing solar or other forms of distributed generation. A less burdensome version of the bill did pass that requires the Iowa Utilities Board to initiate a rulemaking. The Council will be actively involved in the rulemaking to reduce potential new barriers to distributed renewable energy.

Clean Water

This session, water program staff focused on strengthening and securing sustainable funding for initiatives to improve water quality and reduce pollutants. We joined other conservation-focused groups to push for funding the Iowa Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund. Although we were not able to get a bill passed, both chambers filed bills – SF504 and HSB256. Both bills remain alive for the 2016 session.

We continued to convey the need to fully fund the state’s Resource Enhancement and Protection program at $20 million. However, the Legislature ultimately voted to maintain a three-year status quo and funded REAP at $16 million.

We also advocated for increased oversight, transparency and funding for water quality monitoring in the Nutrient Reduction Strategy’s (NRS) Water Quality Initiative (WQI) projects. Funding for WQI projects was allocated at $9.6M, a $2.1M increase from last year, and $450,000 is designated for water quality monitoring equipment and testing. However, the NRS suggests initial investments ranging from $1.2 to $4B, and annual ongoing investments ranging from $756M to $1.2B are needed to meet the 45 percent reduction goal. Iowans are still waiting for substantial, sustainable funding needed to have a meaningful impact on water quality across the state.

We share many of Iowans’ growing and urgent concerns about the state of our land, water and climate, and recognize the importance of that which we were able to accomplish thanks to Iowans that advocated for the environment this session. We are disappointed that more was not accomplished this session to protect and preserve Iowa’s natural resources, but know the work done on behalf of the environment this session lays the foundation for progress in the future.

Clean Water Rule clarifies protections for streams and wetlands

Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced the finalization of the Clean Water Rule, which clarifies protections for headwater streams and wetlands under the Clean Water Act. These waterways help reduce flooding, supply drinking water, filter pollution and provide critical habitat for fish and wildlife in downstream waters.

The Council and many of our allies have worked together to build support and advocate for, advance and achieve a these standards for years. This fall, we submitted comments in support of the proposed standards during the public comment period, as did hundreds of Council members and advocates.

“The Clean Water Rule confirms protections for some of our country’s most important and often overlooked waters under the Clean Water Act, one of our best tools for restoring polluted waters and preventing new pollution,” said Water Program Director Susan Heathcote. “U.S. Supreme Court rulings in recent years had created confusion about which streams and wetlands are protected under the law. The Clean Water Rule clears up that confusion.”

The final standard better defines – not broadens – protections under the Clean Water Act. It also clarifies which waters do not fall under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act, including streams that do not contribute flow to downstream waters, irrigation ditches, waste treatment lagoons, agricultural stormwater runoff and groundwater. It does not create new permitting requirements for agriculture, nor does it change existing exemptions and exclusions.

“For the water in the rivers and lakes in our communities that flow to our drinking water to be clean, the streams and wetlands that feed them need to be clean too,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.

“Today’s rule marks the beginning of a new era in the history of the Clean Water Act,” said Assistant Secretary for the Army (Civil Works) Jo-Ellen Darcy. “This is a generational rule and completes another chapter in history of the Clean Water Act. This rule responds to the public’s demand for greater clarity, consistency, and predictability when making jurisdictional determinations. The result will be better public service nationwide.”

Passed by Congress in 1972, the Federal Clean Water Act was created to “restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the nation’s waters by preventing point and nonpoint pollution sources, providing assistance to publicly owned treatment works for the improvement of wastewater treatment, and maintaining the integrity of wetlands.”

Percentage of assessed Iowa waters found to be impaired increases


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, 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.

Snapshot provides look at local water quality

Today, 40+ individuals waded into the water at lakes, rivers, small streams and ponds in central Iowa for the Polk County Water Monitoring Snapshot, an annual event that measures water quality at various sites in Polk County and eastern Dallas County.

Thanks to volunteers from Wells Fargo, Polk County Conservation, Polk County Soil and Water Conservation District, and the cities of Ankeny, Clive, Des Moines, Johnston, Pleasant Hill as well as individual volunteers from the central Iowa community, testing was conducted at over 70 locations.

Polk Co

Volunteers work in groups of two to three people to sample water at various sites.

This is the 12th year of the Snapshot, which is organized and sponsored by the Iowa Environmental Council, the DNR IOWATER program, Des Moines Water Works, the Des Moines Izaak Walton League, and the Raccoon River Watershed Association. The event uses DNR’s IOWATER equipment and supplies to do field tests and collect water samples. These samples will be assessed at Des Moines Water Works’ lab. Field test results will be uploaded to the IOWATER volunteer database.

“The Snapshot allows volunteers to help gather data on the quality of water in small streams and ponds in our parks and backyards that are otherwise not monitored regularly by the state ,” said Water Program Director Susan Heathcote. “We would never be able to take on such a big task without all of these amazing volunteers, and thank everyone who showed up today for their time, hard work and help to get the job done.”

The next Snapshot will be held in October 2015. To volunteer for future events, please Contact Susan Heathcote at heathcote [at] iaenvironment [dot] org.

Volunteer Program Helps Measure Water Quality

If Iowans want to achieve measurably cleaner water, we must insist upon consistent water quality testing and assessment to gauge progress.  This takes the dedication of numerous individuals and both state and volunteer-led initiatives. One such initiative is the Polk County Water Monitoring Snapshot. The Snapshot, held twice a year in May and October, takes a comprehensive sampling of water sources in the state’s largest urban area, and provides invaluable data for environmental groups and water agencies. The sponsor-funded, volunteer-driven event measures water quality in rivers and streams throughout Polk County ranging from  the Raccoon River to small unnamed creeks.


This year’s event will be held on Wednesday, May 6, from 8:30 a.m. – 1 p.m.  All are welcome to volunteer. Training is provided the morning of the event, and new volunteers work in teams with experienced volunteers, so no previous training is needed. To volunteer, contact Water Program Director Susan Heathcote at heathcote [at] iaenvironment [dot] org or via phone at 515-244-1194 X 205.

The initiative was started by the Iowa Environmental Council, Des Moines Water Works and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources 12 years ago. With the help of the Izaak Walton and the Raccoon River Watershed Association, the Snapshot has grown into one of the largest and most consistently occurring water quality testing programs in the state.

“Before the Snapshot, there was very little information on the quality of any water source in the Des Moines area,” Heathcote said. “We couldn’t answer questions like ‘how does our water compare to other water sources,’ and, ‘how has the quality changed over time?’ Now we can compare our data with previous years and with that of other counties across the state and nation.”jll

The Snapshot usually has 30 to 40 volunteers operating in groups of two to three people that divide and conquer to take samples at over 70 sites across Polk County. The event drew its inspiration from a similar program in Scott County. Since then, several other watersheds, counties and municipalities across Iowa have created snapshot programs of their own, but the Scott and Polk County programs remain the most consistent and thorough.

Questions about the Snapshot? Contact Susan Heathcote for more information or to volunteer at heathcote [at] iaenvironment [dot] org or via phone at 515-244-1194 X 205.