A New Report on Iowa’s Water Quality

Since farming is now “industrial”, shouldn’t agricultural producers have to abide by industrial rules and regulations? The Environmental Working Group issued a new report on the health of Iowa’s waters. They studied Iowa’s rivers and streams and found that the Clean Water Act, which became law forty years ago, does little to address agricultural pollution, and there is an ongoing lack of direction coming from Washington D.C. Agricultural water pollution made it necessary for Iowa’s largest city of Des Moines to build one of the largest nitrate-removal plants in the world to clean its drinking water. To follow, are a few key excerpts from the EWG’s report.

An EWG analysis shows that from 2008 to 2011, water quality was rated “poor” or “very poor” at 60 percent of the 98 stream segments monitored by the Iowa Water Quality Index. The Index, produced by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), uses data from a stream-monitoring network created in 1999 to provide objective measures of how the state’s free- flowing waterways are faring. EWG’s analysis found that none of the sites had “excellent” water quality during the most recent 36-month period studied, and only one was rated “good.”

During the summer months, when Iowans flock to enjoy the outdoors, the Index ratings paint an even grimmer picture. Year after year, from May through August, the rankings of many more streams fall into the “very poor” or “poor” categories.

The two pollutants most responsible for poor water quality ratings in the Index are nitrogen and phosphorus. In 55 percent of the monthly samples across all sites, nitrogen was the single worst pollutant, followed by phosphorus in 30 percent. Together, high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus set off a cascade of pollution problems that contaminate drinking water and damage the health of Iowa’s streams and rivers.

Overall, water quality in 68 percent of the monitored stream segments is either declining or stable. At those sites where the statistics show a positive trend, the improvement is so slow that there will be little change over the next ten years.

Iowa relies on farm owners and operators to take voluntary measures to reduce pollution, and taxpayers pick up much of the cost. Iowa’s towns, cities and industries don’t have that choice. Under the federal Clean Water Act, they have been required to take often-expensive action to reduce pollution since 1977.

Source: MURKY WATERS: Farm Pollution Stalls Cleanup of Iowa Streams by Craig Cox and Andrew Hug.

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