# Sierra Club Iowa Chapter

Group names Cedar River fifth most endangered in U.S.

For 25 years, American Rivers has released annual reports on “America’s Most Endangered Rivers.” Only one waterway in the Midwest made the group’s top ten list for 2010: Iowa’s Cedar River, which came in at number 5. American Rivers comments:

The Cedar River harbors globally rare plant communities, provides critical habitat for fish and wildlife, and is a popular destination for paddlers and anglers. However, outdated flood management and poor watershed planning are impacting public health and safety by causing pollution and increasing the risk of flood damage. The Army Corps of Engineers must prioritize lower cost, non-structural flood management solutions on the Cedar River. These natural solutions will help reduce flood damage, improve water quality, restore fish and wildlife habitat, and provide recreational opportunities and economic benefits while saving taxpayer dollars.

Go here to download a factsheet with more information about the Cedar River and why it’s “endangered.”

Perry Beeman posted the full press release from American Rivers at the Des Moines Register’s blog. Excerpt:

“We have an opportunity to learn from the devastating floods of 1993 and 2008 and rebuild smarter and stronger. We need to incorporate non-structural, natural solutions that provide flood protection, improve water quality, enhance fish and wildlife habitat, and provide recreational opportunities and economic benefits to local communities,” said Sean McMahon, state director of The Nature Conservancy in Iowa.

“It is time for Iowans to insist that state and federal flood protection policies work to reduce flood damage by moving people and structures out of harms way, allowing the flood plain to perform its natural function to absorb and slow the river’s flow during future floods,” said Susan Heathcote with Iowa Environmental Council.

“The newly-organized Cedar River Watershed Coalition has recognized the need to take a holistic approach to watershed management by reaching across city and county jurisdictions to take a whole watershed approach to flood mitigation and river restoration.  This innovative group of concerned individuals and communities is committed to working together to reduce the impacts of flooding in the watershed and to improve water quality in the Cedar River,” said Rosalyn Lehman with Iowa Rivers Revival.

By 2008, the Cedar River had had two 500-year floods within 15 years. Rain falls on a radically changed landscape: plowed fields have replaced tall grass prairies; streams and creeks have been straightened; 90 percent of wetlands have been destroyed; floodplains have been filled and developed; and flows have doubled in just the last half century. Even without factoring in possible effects of climate change, which would exacerbate the problems, the landscape changes will bring more frequent and severe floods. The communities along the Cedar River deserve better, 21st century flood protection solutions to ensure public safety and river health.

The Cedar River, a tributary to the Mississippi River, provides drinking water to more than 120,000 residents, and roughly 530,000 people live and work in the Cedar River watershed. The primary land use in the watershed is agriculture and the river is a popular place for boating and fishing. The river is home to globally rare plant communities and fish and wildlife, including two species of endangered mussels.

In response to the devastating floods of 2008, the Iowa legislature passed a bill in 2009 requiring the Water Resources Coordinating Council to draft recommendations on “a watershed management approach to reduce the adverse impact of future flooding on this state’s residents, businesses, communities, and soil and water quality.” The WRCC submitted those recommendations in November 2009.

Unfortunately, Iowa legislators proved unwilling during the 2010 session to take even baby steps on floodplain management. A bill much weaker than the WRCC recommendations passed the Iowa Senate but never made it out of subcommittee in the Iowa House. The League of Cities, among others, lobbied against the measure. But don’t worry, if any of those cities experience a catastrophic flood, their lobbyists will urge legislators to send plenty of state taxpayer money their way.

I would like to see more cities adopt Davenport’s model for co-existing with a river:

In a nation that spends billions annually on structural flood protection (and billions more when the levees fail) Davenport is the national model for a more cost effective and environmentally responsible approach. We are the largest city in the nation on a major river without a system of levees and pumps for “flood control”. We’ve never had them.  And we don’t want them. Instead of viewing the grand Mississippi as just another storm sewer, we treat it appropriately, with a broad floodplain in (99%) City ownership, now the focal point of our “River Vision” plan. The River Vision plan, developed in conjunction with our southern shore partner, Rock Island, Illinois, is the only bi-state riverfront brownfield redevelopment plan of its kind in the nation. Developed with the extraordinary public input of more than a thousand citizens, the plan is guiding the riverfront revitalization of the historic core of the Quad Cities, and has garnered the nation’s “Most Livable Small City” award from the US Conference of Mayors.  In the historic 2008 Iowa floods, Davenport outperformed every city in the state. We even continued to play baseball at our riverfront ballpark as it became an island in the river. In 2009, our unique approach to floodplain management merited review by the National Academy of Science.  A nine minute video of Davenport’s resilience through the 2008 floods is accessible online.

The University of Iowa’s Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, in cooperation with other groups, has organized a series of seminars on “The Anatomy of Iowa Floods: Preparing for the Future.” The first of the free seminar series took place in Des Moines in March. After the jump I’ve posted the schedule and agenda for future seminars in Burlington, Cedar Rapids, and Waverly this month, and in Mason City and Ames in July.

If you care about protecting Iowa waterways, please consider joining any or all of the following groups: Iowa Environmental Council, Iowa Rivers Revival, Nature Conservancy in Iowa, and the Sierra Club Iowa chapter.

Continue Reading...

Congratulations to Donna Buell

Donna Buell of Spirit Lake has just been elected to the Sierra Club’s national board, becoming the first Iowan ever to serve in that capacity. She grew up on a farm in Holstein, Iowa and lived out of state for a number of years.

Moving back to her home state 15 years ago, she got involved with the Okoboji Protective Association, Friends of Lakeside Laboratory and Dickinson County Clean Water Alliance.

Buell said she’s something of an anomaly in environmental advocacy groups, with her background in finance and law. When groups such as the Iowa chapter of the Sierra Club learned she could provide free business expertise, she was quickly brought into leadership roles, she said with a chuckle. […]

Buell still has ownership in three Holstein farms she rents to others. She’s big into the quest to rebuild the carbon level in soils to where they were before decades of growing crops depleted minerals. She said farmers like to say they are stewards, and they need to prove it with actions.

“We’ve always known that building the soil back again is the only thing that will sustain farming. Plus, it makes for better crops, you know, (with) the organic matter,” Buell said.

From the Sierra Club’s Iowa Chapter website:

“The Chapter is thrilled that Donna has been elected to the board,” said Jerry Neff, chair of the Iowa Chapter Executive Committee.  “We’ve never had an Iowan represent the Sierra Club on its national board of directors since we organized in Iowa in 1972.  We’re very excited.”

Buell has served in various capacities with the Sierra Club at the local, state and national level.  In 2006, she organized the Prairie Lake Group that encompasses Buena Vista, Clay, Dickinson, Emmet, O’Brian, Osceola, Palo Alto and Pocahontas counties and served as its chair.  Elected to the chapter executive committee, Buell has served as the chapter treasurer since 2008.    Nationally, she currently serves as Budget Officer of the Council of Club Leaders Executive Committee and on the National Finance and Risk Management Advisory Committee.

A volunteer for the environment for the past 20 years, Buell also served as a member of the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission from 2003 to 2007 as an appointee of then-Gov. Tom Vilsack.  

According to Buell, “roughly 4,000 of the 5,000 members are urban residents who live in or near Des Moines, Iowa City or Cedar Falls.”  If you would like to get involved, you can find much more information about the Iowa chapter here. They also have an e-mail discussion group and a Facebook page.

Continue Reading...

ACTION: Contact the DNR to protect water quality

I received this alert from the Sierra Club’s Iowa Chapter:

Two years after a coalition, including the Iowa Chapter, petitioned the Environmental Protection Commission for rulemaking to strengthen Iowa’s antidegradation rule, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is recommending “softer” language for protecting some of Iowa’s waters.  Once again, the DNR is succumbing to pressure from polluters to a less protective status for Iowa’s water.

Make your voice heard to DNR that “softening” the language in the antidegradation rule is not acceptable.

At issue is Tier 2.5 protection for Outstanding Iowa Waters.  The DNR agreed early in discussions that Iowa’s high-quality waters, outstanding state resources with exceptional recreational or ecological significance, needed this enhanced level of protection.  Recently, the DNR changed the Outstanding Iowa Waters originally listed.  Now only two of the waters listed in the new NOIA receive a pollution discharge.  See a map of the proposed Outstanding Iowa Waters here. (pdf)

The DNR also proposes language that will make it more difficult to nominate future waters as Outstanding Iowa Waters.  Although any individual or organization can nominate a surface water, the burden of proving that water is worthy falls on whoever is making the nomination.  Draft language indicates that the water will by default receive less protection unless it is proven to deserve otherwise.

The Sierra Club, Iowa Chapter believes that the default should be maximum protection and the burden of proof should fall on the polluter.

Tell the DNR that you want Iowa’s high-quality waters to receive maximum protection and that all proposed streams and lakes should be designated Outstanding Iowa Waters.

Your comments about the proposed Outstanding Iowa Waters are important.  Let the DNR know your experiences and why they should receive maximum protection.

Thanks for all that you do.

Neila Seaman

Sierra Club Iowa Chapter

Click here to see the list of creeks and lakes that the DNR designated as “Outstanding Iowa Waters” earlier this year. This Google document is the memo revising the list, removing all lakes and most of the creeks.

The Sierra Club makes it easy for you to e-mail the right people at the DNR with your comment on this issue. It’s always better to personalize your message if you can, so you might want to look at this document to see whether any lakes or creeks you have enjoyed have been removed from the Outstanding Iowa Waters list. The Iowa Environmental Council provides much more background here on antidegradation rules and Outstanding Iowa Waters.

If you prefer to contact the DNR without going through the Sierra Club site, the Iowa Environmental Council has contact information for the right person here. Public comments must be received by September 15.

Water quality is a huge problem in Iowa already, so we need strong rules protecting our best waters from increased pollution. Please make your voice heard with the DNR.

Continue Reading...

Help keep Iowa streams safe for swimming and playing

I received this action alert from the Sierra Club’s Iowa chapter on Friday:

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) wants to lower recreational use protections on 119 stream segments that protect for swimming, children’s play and other full body contact recreational uses (A1 and A3) to a less protective secondary contact recreational standard that only protects for incidental contact with the water (A2) – click here to see the streams listed.

If the streams’ protections are reduced or eliminated, sewage treatment plants and other facilities will be allowed to continue releasing wastewater into them with harmful levels of bacteria and other pollutants.

It is important for everyone who knows what types of recreational activities occur on any of these 119 streams to provide comments to the DNR if they are aware of any primary contact recreational activities on these streams including swimming, children’s play (including wading), canoeing or kayaking.

Your personalized comments are critical to ensure the recreational standards will not be lowered for waters used for recreation and children’s play.

Sewage that has not been disinfected may contain viruses, parasites, and other pathogens that can make people sick with ear infections, typhoid fever, hepatitis, gastroenteritis, dysentery, and other illnesses.  Pathogens such as fecal coliform and E. coli bacteria are indicators of poor water quality and possible contamination with human or animal waste.  Waters with elevated levels of fecal coliform and E. coli bacteria are considered unsafe to swim in or for children and adolescents to play in.

Tell the DNR your experience recreating on these stream segments and that you do not want protections downgraded.

Here’s a complete list of the threatened streams. Please take a moment to submit a public comment on this issue, especially if you’ve ever played or taken your family to play in any of those waters.

Water pollution is already a huge problem in Iowa. DNR head Rich Leopold knows this, because he gave the state a C- for water quality in his first annual Environmental Report Card last month. Even that grade was too generous, according to the environmental advocates I know.

The DNR should be striving on every front to make Iowa waters cleaner, not downgrading the level of protection for any rivers, lakes or streams. I would like to be able to let my kids wade in a creek during the summer.

Continue Reading...

DNR should strictly limit pollutants from proposed coal plant

Ever since the Iowa Utilities Board voted 2-1 to approve Alliant’s application to build a new coal-fired power plant outside Marshalltown, environmentalists have been hoping the Iowa Department of Natural Resources would be strict when issuing a draft air permit for the plant.

Coal-fired power plants are not only a major source of carbon-dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming, they are also one of the leading sources of fine particulate matter linked to asthma and other respiratory problems.

Neila Seaman, director of the Sierra Club’s Iowa Chapter, wrote an op-ed column published in the Des Moines Register on Monday, and she doesn’t sound optimistic about the DNR’s likely action in this case:

To regulate greenhouse gases and particulate matter 2.5, the DNR should require Alliant to perform a “best available control technology” analysis, known as a BACT analysis. The analysis considers all control technologies available on the market, evaluates what would control the pollutants for this type of facility and takes into account the technology already installed to control the pollutant. With that information, the best technology installed is used to set limits. The limits that are set in the permit would result in the best control of that pollutant. Without this analysis, the permits will not control the pollution from particulate matter 2.5 and greenhouse gases at all.

In other words, without the best-available-control-technology analysis, there will be no regulation of the pollutant in the air permit. With no regulation in the air permit, Alliant will be able to spew unlimited amounts of greenhouse gases and particulate matter 2.5 into the atmosphere.

Currently, the DNR appears to be unwilling to require a best-available-control-technology analysis, asserting rules specifically regulating these pollutants are not in place. The Iowa Chapter of Sierra Club respectfully disagrees. The DNR also maintains that particulate matter 10 – a larger soot particle – is being regulated and, therefore, there is no need to regulate particulate matter 2.5. Although the DNR does control limits on particulate matter 10, particulate matter 2.5 is much smaller in size and a more serious health hazard, but will not necessarily be controlled by the particulate matter 10 limits.

Federal regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency, recent court decisions, and even DNR’s own regulations require regulation of particulate matter 2.5 and greenhouse gases. And yet, it appears the DNR is not going to require a best-available-control-technology analysis for particulate matter 2.5 and for greenhouse gases.

I don’t understand why the DNR would decide against regulating the fine particulate matter produced by this plant, given the proven impact of emissions from coal facilities on public health.

Let’s hope Seaman’s pessimism turns out to be unfounded.

Speaking of the coal plant, I contacted the Iowa Utilities Board to find out whether its chairman, John Norris, plans to serve out his term, which expires in 2011. (His wife Jackie Norris recently accepted an offer to become First Lady Michelle Obama’s chief of staff.) Staff at the Iowa Utilities Board told me Norris has not announced a decision. I will write a separate post for this blog once I hear whether he plans to stay or go.

UPDATE: Thanks to Bleeding Heartland user RF for pointing me to this Des Moines Register article:

Iowa Utilities Board Chairman John Norris, whose wife has been named chief of staff to incoming first lady Michelle Obama, said Monday he is interested in an appointment to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Norris, a veteran Democratic campaign operative, said he would consider serving on the commission or as chairman of the agency with jurisdiction over electricity sales, wholesale electric rates and other energy sales regulation. […]

“It would be fair to say I’m interested in either FERC chairmanship or a commissioner spot,” Norris said. “There are other things I’m interested in and the transition team is rightly focused on filling Cabinet posts and putting together an administration. I’m respecting their timetable and would consider whatever position in the administration where I can be most helpful.”

Continue Reading...