Posts Tagged ‘Clean Water Act’May 5, 2015
A major conduit of nitrate pollution in the Raccoon River watershed is the artificial subsurface drainage system infrastructure, such as those created and managed by drainage districts. Des Moines Water Works recently filed a federal complaint against the Boards of Supervisors of Sac County, Buena Vista County, and Calhoun County, in their capacities as trustees of 10 drainage districts, for the discharge of nitrate pollutants into the Raccoon River.
Why is Nitrate Pollution a Problem?
- Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, Des Moines Water Works is obligated to meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) standards for the maximum contaminate level (MCL) in its finished drinking water. The MCL standard for nitrate is 10 mg/L. The health risks associated with nitrate contamination above MCL include blue baby syndrome and endocrine disruption. In addition to public health risks to drinking water, nitrate pollution also contributes to the hypoxic conditions in public waters, including the Gulf of Mexico’s “Dead Zone.”
- Des Moines Water Works’ mission is to provide safe, abundant and affordable water to our customers. While Des Moines Water Works has invested millions of dollars in capital infrastructure and has developed strategies to manage high nitrate levels, record nitrate peaks in source waters have threatened and continue to threaten the security of the water supply and the ability of Des Moines Water Works to deliver safe and reliable water, while operating with fiscal discipline.
- The current denitrification technology is outdated and cannot continue to operate with rising nitrate levels and increased customer demand. Continued high nitrate concentrations will require future capital investments of $76-183 million to remove the pollutant and provide safe drinking water to a growing central Iowa.
Why a Lawsuit?
- Des Moines Water Works filed a complaint in Federal District Court – Northern District of Iowa, Western Division, on March 16, 2015.
- The complaint seeks to declare the named drainage districts are “point sources,” not exempt from regulation, and are required to have a permit under federal and Iowa law.
- The complaint states that the drainage districts have violated and continue to be in violation of the Clean Water Act and Chapter 455B, Code of Iowa, and demands the drainage districts take all necessary actions, including ceasing all discharges of nitrate that are not authorized by an National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit.
- In addition, damages are demanded to Des Moines Waters to compensate for the harm caused by the drainage districts unlawful discharge of nitrate, assess civil penalties, and award litigation costs and reasonable attorney fees to Des Moines Water Works as authorized by law.
- Des Moines Water Works’ mission is to provide safe, abundant and affordable water to our customers. Des Moines Water Works is fighting for the protection of customers’ right to safe drinking water. Through this legal process, Des Moines Water Works hopes to reduce long-term health risks and unsustainable economic costs to provide safe drinking water to our customers, via permit and regulation of drainage districts as pollutant sources.
- Continued insistence from state leaders that the voluntary approach of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy is working does not give solace to the 500,000 central Iowans who must now pay to remove pollution from their drinking water.
Why Sac, Buena Vista, and Calhoun Counties?
- Buena Vista, Calhoun, and Sac Counties are in the Des Moines Lobe. There are hundreds of drainage districts in these three counties. Under Iowa law, drainage districts are responsible for constructing, administering, and maintaining drainage infrastructure. Within each drainage district, a network of pipes and ditches move groundwater and agricultural pollutants quickly into our drinking water sources.
- Recent water monitoring by Des Moines Water Works at 72 sample sites in Buena Vista, Sac, and Calhoun Counties have shown nitrate levels as high as 39.2 mg/L in groundwater discharged by drainages districts. This is 4 times the federally required Safe Drinking Water regulatory limit of 10 mg/L.
- Laws require that “point sources” discharging into rivers must have permits under the NPDES. Because drainage districts transport nitrate pollution through a system of channels and pipes, they should be recognized and held accountable like every other “point source” contributor. NPDES permits have been successful nationwide in controlling pollution caused by industrial waste and sanitary sewer discharge.
One in three Americans gets their drinking water from rivers and streams that are vulnerable or impaired, including the 500,000 central Iowans who depend on the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers as the source of their drinking water.
Iowans must speak out and demand clean water in our rivers that is essential for drinking, swimming, and fishing. Clean water is critical to viable communities and economic growth. Sixty percent of streams and millions of acres of wetlands across the country are not clearly protected from pollution and destruction.
Over 40 years ago, Congress passed the Clean Water Act. The focus was to, through regulatory means, remove raw sewage and industrial pollution from rivers and lakes. Thanks to cleanup efforts spurred by the Clean Water Act, the pollution from these sources has decreased immensely or been eliminated. Unfortunately, agriculture was exempt from most provisions of the Clean Water Act, and today, is the largest contributor to water pollution in Iowa’s rivers and the country. It is time to expand the Clean Water Act regulations to include all sources of pollution – including agriculture.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have proposed stronger protections for the clean water vital to all Americans, but agriculture continues to be exempted. The proposal is the Clean Water Act-Waters of the United States rule. Agriculture exemptions have degraded Iowa’s rivers and lakes and should no longer be allowed. Iowans must engage in protecting water resources by demanding the support of Iowa’s congressional delegates and state legislators to expand regulations in the Clean Water Act to include sources of agricultural pollution.
The current EPA-Corp of Engineers proposed rule is open for public comment until October 20, 2014. Do your part to support the current proposal, but also ask for expansion of the Clean Water Act to include agricultural sources of pollution. Your drinking water, your health, the ability to fish and swim in Iowa rivers and lakes, and the economic viability of our communities is dependent on your actions today. Future generations are depending on you. Submit your comments at: www.epa.gov/uswaters.
For additional information:
- Watch a video on the importance of clean water
- Read EPA Administrator McCarthy’s op-ed in the Huffington Post on how clean water drives economic growth