Clean Water – still a problem

40 years after the clean water act was passed, there are still issues with the water supply in the mid-west.

Iowa has a voluntary program to encourage farmers to fix this problem which is great.  At issue is the contention that it would take billions of dollars to really address the problem – which is a lot to ask from your farmers.

According to the Des Moines Register:

Although Iowa began a voluntary program in May 2013 that encourages farmers to make changes to reduce runoff, Stowe and environmental groups argue that strategy is toothless and lacks measurable benchmarks or a timeline for improvement.

For years, environmental groups have called for the state to regulate livestock farms, much as they already do for city wastewater treatment plans, which must have permits that limit release of contaminants into rivers. They’re also seeking ways to measure and limit the release of nitrates from fields where tile has been laid underground.

Iowa DNR spokesman Kevin Baskins said the state acknowledges the need to improve its waterways, but that it will take time for voluntary efforts to work. He said farmers are beginning conservation practices and government grants are giving them incentives.

“This isn’t something where you just get instant results,” Baskins said. “We didn’t get into the kind of situation we have today in terms of excess nutrients overnight and we won’t get out of it overnight.”

Significantly reducing nitrogen levels likely requires slowing the flow of water into rivers by setting up wetlands or planting grasses or other cover crops on harvested fields, allowing the plants to retain water and consume excess chemicals.

“We have millions of acres on which we need to implement this stuff,” said Chris Jones, an environmental scientist with the Iowa Soybean Association who has studied the Raccoon River. He said fixing the problem would cost billions of dollars.

There is some hope for the future. Along with the volunteer actions farmers are taking are some organizations that are working to move things along. Iowa’s water and land legacy is working to actually fund a trust fund set up in 2010:

As the January opening of the Iowa Legislature’s 2015 session approaches, a new poll found 81 percent of Iowans now support the creation of the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund.

The survey of Iowa voters commissioned by Iowa’s Water and Land Legacy (IWILL) also found that 66 percent support action to provide revenue for the account.

The trust fund was created in 2010 when 63 percent of Iowa voters approved it through a statewide ballot initiative. The next step is to fund the trust through the state sales tax, an action that must be taken by members of the Iowa Legislature.

If it passes, $150 million a year would be available to fund projects and speed up the conservation.

“Iowa voters have waited long enough to address Iowa’s conservation issues and expect state leaders to act,” said Jan Glendening, state director for The Nature Conservancy. “We believe this is a responsible plan that will protect our sources of drinking water, reduce soil erosion and provide greater protection from flooding.”

We will keep you posted on if anything happens in the legislature!


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