Group highlights Iowa DNR's failure to enforce manure management plans

Numerous large-scale hog confinements in five Iowa counties are not following recommended practices for applying manure to farmland, according to findings the advocacy group Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement released today. Under Iowa law, livestock farms "with 500 Animal Units or more (equivalent to 1,250 hogs)" must have a Manure Management Plan. Iowa CCI members studied 234 of those plans in Adair, Boone, Dallas, Guthrie, and Sac counties (central and western Iowa). They found "missing documents, double-dumping, over-application, potential P-index violations, incorrect application rates, and potential hazards of manure application based on the geography and farming practices of the land." Iowa CCI filed a complaint with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources today, requesting a thorough investigation of manure management plan violations as well as reforms "to improve oversight and to hold factory farm polluters accountable," including stronger enforcement of plans and permits, "increased public access to manure application records," more thorough inspections of livestock farms, and "better training across field offices for DNR staff."

I enclose below the executive summary of Iowa CCI’s findings. The full complaint to the DNR is available here (pdf). Pages 4 through 6 offer detailed recommendations for "next steps" to address the problems. Appendix A lists 91 farms in the five counties that are large enough to need Manure Management Plans, but for which such plans are missing. Appendix B lists five farms for which Manure Management Plans were not in the DNR’s animal feeding operations database. Appendix C shows which documents were missing from dozens of farms’ Manure Management Plans across the counties. The file also includes county maps of watersheds and roads to show where the farms in question are located.

Since Iowa CCI members examined Manure Management Plans in only five of Iowa’s 99 counties, today’s case study reveals only a small fraction of statewide problems related to manure application. Kudos to those who researched and exposed the DNR’s failure to do its job.

Calls for tougher enforcement may be a dead letter, given the Branstad administration’s hostility to regulations that inconvenience business owners and the Iowa legislature’s resistance to approve even small measures to improve water quality (and I’m not just talking about Republican lawmakers).

Iowa CCI’s mission and methods have made it unpopular in powerful circles. But those who criticize the group’s controversial acts (like heckling politicians) should also acknowledge important work like today’s case study. While some Democratic elected officials are deeply committed to addressing our water pollution problem, as a group Iowa Democratic officialdom has said little and done less about agricultural runoff. Iowa CCI speaks for many people who are angry about pollution impairing hundreds of waterways, and who know that electing more Democrats alone will not solve the problem. That’s why it has long been among the largest non-profits working on environmental and social justice issues in this state.

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Weekend open thread: Water problems edition

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

I spent most of Friday at the Iowa Environmental Council’s annual meeting, where as usual, I learned a lot from the conference speakers. (I’ve long been an active volunteer for the non-profit.) Chad Pregracke gave an inspiring and entertaining keynote address this year. Raised on the banks of the Mississippi River, Pregracke spent hours a day under its surface diving for mussels shells as a summer job. In his early 20s, he became obsessively committed to getting trash out of the river and cold-called businesses in the Quad Cities until he had enough funding for his first cleanup project. Favorable coverage from the Associated Press helped Pregracke raise more awareness and money. He later created the non-profit Living Lands and Waters, which has pulled a mind-blowing amount of trash out of waterways in twenty states. I am looking forward to reading Pregracke’s memoir From the Bottom Up: One Man’s Crusade to Clean America’s Rivers.

Several speakers at the Iowa Environmental Council conference discussed the Des Moines Water Works’ lawsuit against drainage districts in northwest Iowa’s Sac, Calhoun and Buena Vista Counties. The unprecedented lawsuit has angered many Iowa politicians, including Governor Terry Branstad, who has said the Water Works “ought to just tone it down and start cooperating and working with others […].” (Priceless response from Todd Dorman: “Tone it down? Tell it to the bloomin’ algae.”)

The most informative single piece I’ve seen about this litigation is Sixteen Things to Know About the Des Moines Water Works Proposed Lawsuit, a speech Drake University Law Professor Neil Hamilton gave at the 2015 Iowa Water Conference in Ames this March. The director of Drake’s Agricultural Law Center also wrote an excellent guest column for the Des Moines Register in May debunking the “strenuous effort” to convince Iowans that “the lawsuit is unfair and unhelpful.”

Last weekend, the Associated Press ran a series of well-researched articles on water infrastructure problems across the U.S. As a country, we were foolish not to invest more in infrastructure during and since the “Great Recession,” when interest rates have been at historically low levels. The AP reports underscore the mounting hidden and not-hidden costs of hundreds of municipalities deferring maintenance on water mains and equipment at treatment plants. After the jump I’ve posted excerpts from several of the stories, but if you want to be educated and appalled, click through to read them in their entirety: Ryan Foley, “Drinking water systems imperiled by failing infrastructure” and “Millions remain unspent in federal water-system loan program”; Justin Pritchard, “Availability of clean water can’t be taken for granted anymore”; and John Seewer, “Cities bear rising cost of keeping water safe to drink.”

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What's the end game for conservation funding in Iowa?

(Thanks to Matt Hauge for flagging this little-noticed but significant shift by the Iowa Corn Growers.   - promoted by desmoinesdem)

(Author note: Thanks to DesMoines Dem for permitting this cross-post originally published on Medium.) 

At its annual policy conference in August, the Iowa Corn Growers Association joined the Iowa Soybean Association in supporting Iowa’s Water and Land Legacy (IWLL), a sales tax increase that would provide in excess of $150 million annually to environmental protection and natural resources in Iowa.

Official support for IWLL from both the corn and soybean organizations is significant because a bill in this year’s legislative session to enact the tax increase, SSB1272 (succeeded by SF504), drew opposition from the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, the state’s agribusiness lobbying powerhouse.

While it received very little attention in the media, this action by the Corn Growers — just maybe — is a sign that something is changing in a good way for clean water in Iowa.

Even if not, at least the Corn Growers’ decision presents a good opportunity to look at what’s going on as Iowa struggles for better conservation performance of its globally significant soil and water resources.

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Iowa State University seeks water quality assessment coordinator

(Guest author highlights inconvenient truths about an important but challenging job. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Iowa State University has announced a new position in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences focused on assessing the effectiveness of Iowa's Nutrient Reduction Strategy – an all-voluntary state plan to reduce chronic runoff pollution that is the state's most vexing water quality challenge.

Think you might be up to the challenge?  There's more after the jump.

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Is the Promise of Natural Gas Waning?

(The former leader of the Iowa Energy Office and founder of the non-profit Unfolding Energy challenges some assumptions about natural gas as a "bridge" between coal-fired power plants and renewable energy production. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

The final Clean Power Plan released on August underplays the role of natural gas in reducing carbon emissions in comparison to the draft Clean Power Plan rules released in 2014. According to the America’s Natural Gas Alliance President Martin Durbin, initial indications from the final Clean Power Plan rues indicate that the White House discounted gas’s ability to reduce GHG emissions quickly and reliably while contributing to growth and helping consumers.

For the last few years, natural gas was considered to be a bridge between carbon-intensive fuels such as coal and the clean energy of the future. Given that natural gas releases 50% fewer greenhouse gas emissions compared to coal, it was certainly a great substitute. However, the recent growth in the renewable energy industry is quickly proving that we may not need this bridge fuel after all.  Here is why.  

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Longer summer break for Iowa kids, but with less lake swimming

Thousands of Iowa children went back to school today, having enjoyed an extra week or two of vacation thanks to a new state law preventing K-12 school districts from beginning the academic year before August 23. In response to lobbying from the tourism industry, most state lawmakers and Governor Terry Branstad sought to block local school administrators from starting in early or mid-August. However, as economist Dave Swenson explained here, "there is no evidence that early start dates interfere in any meaningful sense with the Iowa State Fair or with any other tourism activity in Iowa."

If only the governor and most of our state legislators were as tuned in to how dirty water hurts Iowa tourism.  

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