Des Moines Water Work’s primary water sources are the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers. Land use in the Raccoon and Des Moines River Watersheds is overwhelmingly agricultural. About 1.7 million of the 2.3 million acres in the Raccoon watershed is cultivated for corn and soybeans. Land covered by perennial vegetation is nearly non-existent outside urban areas. Much of the corn-soybean system requires constructed drainage (agricultural tile drainage) to maximize yields. Manure and commercial fertilizers applied to crop land are transported during rainfall events as either run-off or discharged to a river through a tile drainage system. All of these factors have resulted in various consequences for water quality and challenges for drinking water utilities.
Today, the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission (EPC) will meet to discuss whether or not to continue to ban manure application to soybean crops. Manure is a source of nutrients used in combination with or in place of commercial fertilizer. Nutrients in water are necessary for healthy watersheds; however, in high concentrations they can adversely affect aquatic life and human health. For a drinking water utility, increasing nutrient loads can cause difficult and costly challenges at the source, in the treatment process, and at the tap. Monitoring trends in the Des Moines and Raccoon River since 1974 show the ever-increasing trend of nitrate-nitrogen (a nutrient) loading and concentrations. Without a comprehensive, measurable state nutrient standard and strategy these conditions will be perpetuated.
All waters in Iowa are “public waters and public wealth” of its citizens and is for the beneficial use of all citizens. It is also the policy of the State of Iowa – delegated to the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission – to protect existing water uses and to protect and maintain the physical, biological and chemical integrity of all waters of the state. Making a decision on whether manure should be applied to soybeans is again representative of the piecemeal approach to nutrient management that will not effectively decrease non-point source nutrient contributions to Iowa’s surface and ground water resources.
Des Moines Water Works provided comments to EPC commissioners strongly urging them to take this opportunity to support development of comprehensive nutrient management strategies and standards. Standards that protect Iowa’s water resources, promote economic development, and enhance the quality of life necessary to attract workers and jobs to the state. And most importantly, establish the target so many producers and the public have requested.
It is not Des Moines Water Works’ intent to tell people how to farm or what they can and cannot do on their land. But it is our intent, to rigorously advocate for establishing a comprehensive nutrient strategy, setting numeric nutrient standards, and the aggressive reduction of non-point source nutrient contributions to Iowa’s surface and ground water resources.
Des Moines Water Works and the drinking water industry ensures that the investment the public has made in them results in all Iowans having access to safe drinking water. We believe every Iowan who drinks a glass of water should recognize the importance of our water resources to sustaining life and the critical connection between our water resources and food production, an existence and connection that should occur without degradation of our water resources.
Producers are able to make all the decisions on his or her land, but those decisions are having dramatic consequences that impact others. Integrated solutions on a watershed scale and involvement of all stakeholders in the planning and implementation process is critical to generating change. Whether you live in an urban, rural or something in-between, we are all part of the watershed and whatever we do in our daily lives impacts water quality in the watershed.