When is it safe to get in the water?

Angelisa Belden is director of communications for the Iowa Environmental Council. This post first appeared on the council’s website on August 21. -promoted by Laura Belin

I was born and raised in Iowa, but hailing from the far northeast corner meant more visits to Minnesota lakes or Lake Michigan than central Iowa. That’s likely more due to family in those regions, but when I settled my family in Des Moines two years ago to work at Iowa Environmental Council, many of the recreational opportunities here were new to me. That includes Clear Lake.

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Action: Public comments needed on Iowa's Impaired Waters List

John Norwood is a Polk County Soil and Water Commissioner. Readers can email comments to Dan Kendall at daniel.kendall@dnr.iowa.gov or mail them to the address enclosed at the end of this post. -promoted by Laura Belin

Friends, Polk County Residents, Iowans,

Below, please find public comments I filed with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) last week on our 2018 Impaired Waters List. The public comment period closes December 28.

My most important takeaway and message to Iowans is that our impaired waters need to be addressed by first, modernizing the vision for our state’s agricultural “machine,” and second, looking at how to support that new vision through systems, conservation infrastructure, policies and practices, and local, regional, national, or international markets.

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Market forces may kill Bakken pipeline despite likely Iowa Utilities Board approval

Pipes intended for use in the Dakota Access pipeline being stored in Jasper County, Iowa during 2015. Photo provided by Wallace Taylor, used with permission.

UPDATE: As expected, the board voted unanimously to approve the permit. Scroll to the end of this post for more details and reaction.

The Iowa Utilities Board will meet this afternoon to issue a decision on the proposed Dakota Access pipeline. Everyone I know in the environmental community expects the three board members to approve the permit for this project, better known as the Bakken pipeline. Litigation is sure to follow, as opponents charge the Iowa Utilities Board’s eminent domain powers may be used only in the service of a “public good,” not “to privilege a private corporation.”

Other legal hurdles include the need for a permit from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, because the pipeline route would cross “four areas in Iowa that have been identified as sovereign lands.” The Sierra Club Iowa chapter has been pushing for a thorough Environmental Impact Study and archaeological review. (Too many Iowa politicians from both parties signed a letter to the utilities board opposing an independent environmental impact assessment.)

Iowa State University economist Dave Swenson has long cast doubt on the “bloated” economic impact numbers Dakota Access has used to market the project. Click here for Swenson’s detailed analysis on the pipeline’s “purported economic and fiscal benefits to the state of Iowa.”

A growing number of observers believe the project no longer makes economic sense even for Energy Transfer Partners, the parent company of Dakota Access.

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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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Iowa Supreme Court rejects Farm Bureau's effort to nullify clean water rules (updated)

In a 4-3 split decision, the Iowa Supreme Court affirmed today a Polk County District Court ruling that dismissed a lawsuit seeking to nullify new state water quality rules.

The environmental community and groups representing big agribusiness have closely watched this case for years, because the “antidegradation” rules are an important step toward bringing Iowa into compliance with the federal Clean Water Act. Had this lawsuit succeeded, no strong water quality rules would have seen the light of day for the forseeable future in Iowa, because Governor Terry Branstad has packed the State Environmental Protection Commission with advocates for agribusiness.

Follow me after the jump for more background on the case and details about today’s decision.

UPDATE: Added reaction from the Iowa Farm Bureau and the Iowa Environmental Council below. If there’s a more hypocritical statewide organization than the Farm Bureau, I can’t think what it could be.

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