A simple way to make Iowa's bad water quality worse

Signs of Iowa’s poor water quality are not hard to come by. Our state has more than 400 “impaired waters.” The Des Moines Water Works has the largest nitrate removal system in the world, because “the Raccoon River has the highest average nitrate concentration of any of the 42 largest tributaries in the Mississippi River Basin.” Even so, the Water Works sometimes struggles to handle high levels of blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) in the Raccoon River, forcing the water treatment facility to draw from a secondary source. Iowa watersheds are also a major contributor to the "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico, and the nutrients from “Nitrogen and phosphorus pollution from commercial fertilizers and animal manure from farmland were the biggest contributing sources” of the excess nutrients that cause the dead zone.  

Despite those facts, Governor Terry Branstad and many state legislators have claimed the Iowa Department of Natural Resources takes too tough a stand in enforcing pollution rules. Branstad’s draft budget cut funding for the DNR. The department was a frequent punching bag at Republican-led forums around Iowa last month, designed to spotlight supposedly burdensome regulations on businesses.  

Branstad has expressed hope for a “change in attitude” at the DNR. He sent a strong signal by appointing Roger Lande as the new DNR director. Lande is a former head of the Association for Business and Industry and a partner in a Muscatine law firm that has represented the Iowa Farm Bureau as well as corporations like Monsanto.

Announcing Lande’s appointment, Branstad said,

“I can think of no one better to be a steward of Iowa’s precious natural resources than Roger Lande,” said Gov.-elect Branstad. “Roger and his family have long been champions of conservation of Iowa’s rivers, woodlands, greenways, prairies and trails and I am confident that Roger will excel in his new role as head of Iowa Department of Natural Resources.”

Apparently Branstad has now thought of someone better than Lande to handle water quality programs and Clean Water Act compliance: Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey. Yes, even though runoff from conventional agriculture is a leading cause of Iowa’s poor water quality, Branstad thinks the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) might be better-suited to handle water monitoring and protection than the DNR. Some Iowa House Republicans are pushing House Study Bill 180, which would transfer the same authority to IDALS. Unfortunately, it won’t be enough to stop this measure in the Iowa House or Senate, because Branstad has the power to transfer functions to Northey’s agency without enabling legislation.

After the jump I’ve posted background on this issue from Iowa Rivers Revival and the Iowa Environmental Council, as well as contact information for state legislators and the governor’s office. The Iowa Environmental Council posted a link to their action alert here.

Iowa already does too little to limit water pollution. If Northey is put in charge of protecting water quality, get ready for more impaired waters and major algae blooms. Northey marches in lockstep with the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, one of three plaintiffs in a state lawsuit seeking to nullify the most significant water quality rules adopted in Iowa during the past decade.

In related news, the American Farm Bureau Federation has filed a federal lawsuit to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from limiting water pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.

The farm lobby has made it clear it sees the cleanup effort as a harbinger of more far-reaching EPA requirements across the country, including in the Mississippi River basin, where chemical runoff from industrial farms is swept to the Gulf of Mexico. […]

“This new EPA approach will not end with the Chesapeake Bay,” Bob Stallman, the Farm Bureau’s president, said in an address early this month. “EPA has already revealed its plan to follow suit in other watersheds across the nation, including the Mississippi watershed. That is why our legal effort is essential to preserving the power of the states – not EPA – to decide whether and how to regulate farming practices in America’s watersheds.”

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

From Iowa Rivers Revival:

Efforts to improve  water quality are being threatened by several bills and by a recent  Farm Bureau lawsuit attempting to overturn the water quality  anti-degradation rules that took years of work to complete and pass.

HSB 180 the most foreboding bill that could impact water quality, transfers the authority  for water monitoring and protection from the Iowa Department of Natural  Resources (IDNR) to the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land  Stewardship (IDALS). It would also transfer the entire 319 EPA funded  Non-Point Source Water Pollution program from IDBR to IDALS. At a time  when “less spending and government efficiency” is the message coming  from legislative leaders – this transfer is unnecessary and costly,  requiring planning, hiring and duplication that the taxpayer can ill afford, while turning over water protection to an agency whose primary function is to serve and promote agriculture.

According to an Iowa Department of Administrations publication, “The object of the [Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship] is to encourage, promote, market, and advance the interests of agriculture, including production practices, such as organic or conventional, that may lead to direct marketing of raw product and value-added goods.”

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is the government agency that leads Iowans in caring for their natural resources. It is responsible for maintaining state parks and forests, protecting the environment, and managing energy, fish, wildlife, and land and water resouces in Iowa. The DNR's mission: To conserve and enhance our natural resources in cooperation with individuals and organizations to improve the quality of life for Iowans and ensure a legacy for future generations

Democracy in Iowa will be poorly served by this  change, which would result in no oversight from the Governor or the  citizen commission who both represent all Iowa interests in clean  water. The Governor has the authority to move the EPA 319 programs by  executive order to any state agency.


Call or write your legislative leaders today. Inquire about their next in-district forum and try to attend if available. We have to initiate the lines of communication and education with our policy leaders if we expect them to look out for rivers.

Iowa General Assembly (find a bill): http://www.legis.iowa.gov/inde…

Iowa Senate: 515.281.3371

Iowa House: 515.281.3221

From the Iowa Environmental Council:

Attack on Water Quality –  your emails needed

Governor Branstad and legislators are  considering transferring Section 319/Clean Water Act compliance  functions, water monitoring and other water quality protection programs  from the DNR to the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship  (IDALS).  The 319 section of the Clean Water Act deals with non-point  source pollution.  Agricultural practices are the primary source of  non-point source pollution in Iowa.  

We believe that Secretary Northey and his department are very capable  and trusted advocates for Iowa's agricultural economy.  But the primary  mission and priorities of his department are not about protecting water  quality.  If transferred to IDALS, water quality would take a back seat  to agricultural economic priorities.  Given the historical resistance  to water quality restrictions by some factions of the Iowa agricultural  community, moving our water protection programs to IDALS could put  politics before sound science.

Also important to note is that Section 319 deals with urban sources  of non-point pollution and IDALS does not have experience or expertise  in addressing urban stormwater management issues.  Transfer of this  responsibility will put protection of water quality for all Iowans at  risk.

Contact Governor Branstad today – urge him to leave the EPA 319  program and other critical water quality programs with the DNR. Governor  Terry Branstad: 515-281-5211 or http://www.governor.iowa.gov/c…

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  • Roger Lande and friends

    Is this the same Lande who is a partner at Stanley, Lande and Hunter?  

    The Stanley in that firm is David Stanley, one of the founders of Iowans for Tax Relief.