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.