Tag Archives: Iowa nutrient strategy

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.

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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.

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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Environmental groups call for clean water goals to reduce harmful algae blooms and protect clean water in lakes

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The Iowa Environmental Council and Environmental Law and Policy Center filed a petition with the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission Tuesday calling on Iowa’s Department of Natural Resources to set water quality standards to protect clean water, public health, and recreation at 159 of Iowa’s publicly owned lakes.

Online feature:  See an interactive map of lakes included in the petition.

The proposed water quality standards will establish clear, science-based goals to prevent potentially harmful algae blooms and keep Iowa’s lakes clean and safe for swimming and recreation.

Image shows a thick mat of green algae with the text "Let's clean this up!"“These standards are focused on helping local communities prevent lake water quality problems that can make recreation less desirable, threaten aquatic life, and put people’s health at risk,” said Ralph Rosenberg, the Council’s executive director.

The safeguards the Council has proposed, called numeric nutrient criteria, will provide local community and watershed groups a way to know if soil and water conservation efforts around a lake are sufficient to achieve needed results.  They will also help the Iowa Department of Natural Resources write permits to protect lakes by managing pollution releases by industrial sites and municipal wastewater facilities.

The proposed standards would set goals for Secchi depth and chlorophyll-a , measurements of water clarity and the presence of potentially harmful algae.  They would also set goals for total nitrogen and total phosphorus in the lake, pollutants that contribute to algae growth and low water clarity.

Iowa State University lake expert John Downing said Iowa’s lakes have some of the highest nitrogen and phosphorus levels found anywhere in the world, leading to blue-green algae blooms that are unhealthy for ecosystems and people.

“Decreasing the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus reaching a lake can lead to renewal and restoration of good water quality, and this has been shown in Iowa and throughout the world,” he said.

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Rosenberg comments on updates to Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy

Image shows a thick mat of green algae with the text "Let's clean this up!"Wednesday, state officials at the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources released an updated version of Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy first released in November.  Upon initial review of the new version, Ralph Rosenberg, executive director of the Iowa Environmental Council, made the following statement:

“Many Iowans had hoped an update to the strategy would include clearer goals, timelines and strategies for measurement of progress, but unfortunately these important elements of the state plan remain to be determined.  In their response to public comments on the strategy, state officials made clear under the current plan, improvements to Iowa’s water quality will take decades to materialize.

“Iowans who have witnessed record nitrate levels that threaten drinking water this month as well as continued algae blooms and harms to aquatic life from nitrogen and phosphorous pollution think achieving cleaner water is urgent now.  The Iowa Environmental Council and our partners remain committed to doing all we can to speed pollution reduction in Iowa and deliver meaningful results as quickly as possible.”