June 29, 2018

No water quality success worth reporting or celebrating

The Iowa Farm Bureau is perturbed that the news media didn’t do more to cover the fifth year anniversary of Iowa’s voluntary Nutrient Reduction Strategy and the conservation progress being made by Iowa farmers.

The Iowa Farm Bureau pouting because they are not receiving enough praise and admiration from the media is funny considering the influence they wield with Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, Iowa’s Secretary of Agriculture, and key members of the Trump administration.

Since her ascension to the office of Governor, Des Moines Water Works has requested a meeting with Governor Reynolds on numerous occasions.  Each time we have been told she is working hard to make Iowa better, but has no time in her schedule to sit down with a utility that supplies drinking water to one-sixth of the state’s population.  Even after parts of nine Southwest Iowa counties were without drinking water recently, the Governor’s office still brushed off a request to sit down and discuss important issues related to access to safe drinking water.

While Governor Reynolds continues to refuse to meet with Des Moines Water Works, she has appeared or partnered in numerous events with the Iowa Farm Bureau and other commodity groups in her first 13 months in office.  From water quality events in Northwest Iowa to speaking at the Iowa Farm Bureau’s Annual Meeting, Reynolds doesn’t miss an opportunity to be seen with the organization. In fact, Reynolds even joined Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt when he visited the Iowa Farm Bureau in August of 2017.

One would think the Iowa Farm Bureau could deal with being ignored in a news cycle so long as they have the ear of decision makers in Des Moines and Washington D.C.

As for the substantive part of the Iowa Farm Bureau’s latest article about farming and conservation, we commend them for finally acknowledging that farmers have responsibility for water quality.  As well as Rep. Steve King’s recent comments on the House floor about Iowa farmers’ contribution to the Gulf of Mexico’s ‘Dead Zone,’ in his Amendment to the House Farm Bill.  This is truly a breakthrough.  Finally, Iowa Farm Bureau acknowledges agricultural activities do impact water quality (even if, erroneously, the author believes Iowa’s water quality has improved since the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy was implemented).  However, if it’s the truth you are seeking, it should be easily verifiable by data and the problem is that the facts and science are not on the Iowa Farm Bureau’s side.

The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy has failed.  Nitrate concentration in both the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers has been unchanged since the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy was introduced in 2013.  However, nitrate loads in both rivers has actually increased during that same time frame.  And remember, the stated goal of the program was to reduce Iowa’s contribution of nutrients in our rivers, streams, and lakes by 45 percent, which is nowhere in sight.

In fact, a recent study from the University of Iowa shows the state’s contribution to the nitrogen pollution in the Gulf of Mexico has grown by almost 50 percent, despite the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.  The study also shows that Iowa is responsible for 55 percent of the nitrogen load is the Missouri River.  Chris Jones, a research engineer at the University of Iowa’s IIHR–Hydroscience & Engineering, states, “The way that pencils out is that the amount of water coming from Iowa has seven times more nitrate than the rest of the Missouri River watershed.”

The Iowa Farm Bureau is seeking praise for farmers because some of them have chosen to enact conservation practices on their land.  While it is indeed good and right to commend farmers who take the necessary steps to protect water sources and improve soil quality, a voluntary approach is never going to achieve the desired results.  It is time for a bold approach to address water quality in our state.

Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, Des Moines Water Works is required to meet the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s standards for the maximum contaminate level (MCL) in its finished drinking water. When nitrate concentrations in Des Moines Water Works’ source waters (Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers) are above 10 mg/L, the utility must deploy costly nitrate removal solutions in order to meet the Safe Drinking Water Standard for its finished drinking water.

With no measurable improvement in our sources waters, Des Moines Water Works has no choice but to continuing investment to de-nitrify because the condition of the Raccoon River is deteriorating.  Our continued investment in the Saylorville Water Treatment Plant on the Des Moines River is necessary because it is more financially prudent to avoid the more heavily polluted Raccoon River.

The current game being played by the Iowa Farm Bureau and our elected leaders is a dangerous one.  It makes ribbon cuttings and press releases touting unrealized success a priority, while the conditions of our source waters are simply ignored.  The doors at Des Moines Water Works will continue to remain open to anyone who wants to discuss how we can all work together to improve water quality in the state.  Let’s not confuse “collaboration” or “cooperation” with back-slapping cheers for the status quo.  We realize that unless our current leaders choose to leave the echo chamber they are currently residing in, not much is going to change.  And that is unfortunate and dangerous. Iowa’s surface waters are a public health disaster in waiting.

Posted by: Laura Sarcone 2 Comments
Labels: , , , Posted in Source Water, Water Quality

2 Responses to “No water quality success worth reporting or celebrating”

  1. June 29, 2018 at 6:21 pm, Steve Gravelle said:

    Can you provide links for this?
    “Nitrate concentration in both the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers has been unchanged since the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy was introduced in 2013…”
    Thanks!

    Reply

  2. June 30, 2018 at 3:42 pm, Mike Henning said:

    Excellent responce to the propaganda IFBF is putting out!

    Reply

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