More than half of U.S. rivers "in poor condition for aquatic life"

After testing waterways at about 2,000 sites during 2008 and 2009, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has concluded that 55 percent of rivers and streams in the country are "in poor condition for aquatic life." One of the biggest problems was nutrient pollution from excessive levels of nitrogen and phosphorus. Reduced vegetation cover near streams also contributed to poor water quality. Only 21 percent of U.S. river and stream length was judged to be in "good" condition, with another 23 percent in "fair" condition.

Compared to an EPA survey conducted in 2004, the latest data show a smaller percentage of rivers and streams in good condition and a higher percentage in poor condition.

An EPA summary of the key findings is after the jump. You can find more data on the National Aquatic Resource Surveys here, including this two-page fact sheet (pdf) and the full draft report (pdf). Iowa is part of the “temperate plains” region, discussed on pages 78 through 80 of that report. I’ve posted an excerpt below. Only 15 percent of rivers and streams in the temperate plains region were judged to be in good condition; 55 percent were in poor condition.

Iowa should reject the all-voluntary nutrient reduction strategy favored by agricultural interest groups. Given the awful state of our rivers and streams, we need some mandatory steps to reduce nutrient pollution, including numeric standards for nitrogen and phosphorus. Both EPA staff and environmental advocates in Iowa have called for strengthening the nutrient reduction strategy. Unfortunately, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey has a firmly closed mind.  

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Voluntary Nutrient Reduction Strategy Will Not Work

(The author is an organic farmer with a Phd in soil science. He was the Democratic nominee for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture in 2010. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

We have been hearing a lot of hype from Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey about how the voluntary approach to changing agricultural practices to improve water quality — as proposed in the Nutrient Reduction Strategy (NRS) — will be effective.  However, my experience in over 25 years of work on water quality tells me that this is very naive thinking at best, and deceptive to the public at worst.  Below are the comments on the NRS that I submitted a few days ago.

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Shorter EPA: Iowa's nutrient reduction strategy needs a lot of work

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency submitted lengthy comments this week on Iowa’s draft strategy for reducing nutrients in waterways. I’ve posted the full text of EPA Region 7 Administrator Karl Brooks’ letter after the jump. The EPA found more problems with the "nonpoint source" part of the strategy, which primarily addresses runoff from farms. The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship drafted the nonpoint source part of the nutrient strategy, largely without input from Iowa Department of Natural Resources staff who are experts on agricultural runoff. Under "general comments," the EPA confirmed that rejecting numeric criteria for nutrient pollution from farms "does not reflect the EPA’s current thinking." The Iowa Farm Bureau Federation applauded that aspect of the nutrient strategy. We’ll see whose view holds sway in the final version.

The Iowa DNR was responsible for drafting the “point source” part of the nutrient strategy, which addresses municipal and industrial discharges (such as from wastewater treatment facilities) into rivers and streams. The EPA submitted only minor suggestions for improving the point source section.

Iowa citizens and advocacy groups have until January 18 to comment on the nutrient strategy.

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Two views of Iowa's strategy on key water pollution problem

Last week the Iowa Department of Natural Resources extended the public comment period on the state’s proposed strategy "to assess and reduce nutrients delivered to Iowa waterways and the Gulf of Mexico." Nutrients have become "Iowa’s most widespread water pollution problem" and are the primary cause of the gulf’s "dead zone." The Environmental Working Group’s recent report on "Murky Waters" explains the causes of Iowa’s chronically poor water quality.

Interest groups aligned with corporate agriculture had extensive input while the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship drafted its part of the nutrient reduction strategy, even shutting out the Iowa DNR’s experts on agricultural runoff. For more background on the proposed state policy, which relies on voluntary efforts to curb pollution from farms, click here or here.

Iowans have until January 18 to comment on the nutrient strategy. Many groups and individuals have already submitted their feedback. After the jump I’ve posted comments from the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation and the Sierra Club Iowa Chapter. The contrast is striking.  

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New water quality policy stacked against public input, for Big Ag

Iowa officials formally unveiled a new strategy yesterday "to assess and reduce nutrients delivered to Iowa waterways and the Gulf of Mexico." As the Des Moines Register’s Perry Beeman reported last week, the policy related to farm runoff was drafted without input from key Iowa Department of National Resources personnel. Instead, it closely resembles positions advocated by the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.

The best time to roll out a policy that goes against the public interest is when few people are paying attention. Citizens will have only 45 days to comment on the new Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. Most of the comment period falls during the Thanksgiving to New Year’s holiday season. More details are below.

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