Report spotlights state inaction on continually growing problem, failure of nutrient reduction strategy, lack of political will

For Immediate Release 11/14/2019
For more information, contact:
Adam Mason, State Policy Organizing Director
adam@iowacci.org
515-282-0484

Des Moines, IA – Today members of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI) are pointing to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) release of the 2018 303d list – better knowns as its impaired waters report as evidence the state is failing Iowans when it comes to water quality. The report released this morning, required by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is typically released every two years in the Spring.  However, the DNR claimed difficulties during this reporting cycle leading to the release six months later than normal.

The 2018 report found that Iowa’s impaired water bodies has increased to 767, up from 750 two years ago. Upon initial review, Iowa CCI members also flagged several problematic details:

  • Over half of those waterbodies assessed came back with level 4 or level 5 impairments
  • 57% of Iowa’s rivers and streams that were assessed came back as impaired
  • 57% of Iowa’s lakes and reservoirs that were assessed came back as impaired
  • 523 waters are in need of further assessment
  • Only 27 waterways were “delisted” or removed from a level 4 or level 5 impairment
  • Of the impairments identified, a majority are potentially byproducts of industrialized ag practices within the state (i.e. fish kills attributable to manure spills, fertilizer and pesticides; or bacteria levels and algal growth as a symptom of possible farm runoff)

“Today’s report is woefully inadequate and insufficient. Iowans are being hurt physically and financially by the quality of water in Iowa. We need definite numbers to really see the trends in Iowa’s water quality.” Said Betty Salmon, a retired teacher and Iowa CCI member from Urbandale, IA.

Iowa’s primary strategy for improving water quality has been the Voluntary Nutrient Reduction Strategy (NRS), adopted in 2013 to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus loading in Iowa’s waterways. However, when it comes to nonpoint sources of nutrient pollution – industrial agricultural operations and practices being one of the main examples – the strategy is merely voluntary.

This voluntary NRS has been proven to be a complete failure and according to a report from the Iowa Environmental Council (IEC), the state is hundreds, possibly even thousands of years behind where we should be to reduce Iowa’s contribution to the Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico. 

“This is one more sign that the state’s nutrient reduction strategy is a complete failure. The report fails to differentiate the magnitude of impairments in many of Iowa’s waterways. But the reality is that any impairment is unacceptable.” said Cherie Mortice, retired teacher and Iowa CCI member from Des Moines. “That’s why are suing the state – every Iowan has a right to clean water and the state has a duty to protect that right.”

Earlier this year, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and Food & Water Watch filed a lawsuit against the State of Iowa because the Legislature has failed to take Iowa’s water pollution crisis seriously. The groups’ lawsuit alleges that the state has violated its obligation under the Public Trust Doctrine to protect the Raccoon River for the use and benefit of all Iowans by failing to limit the pollution running off industrial agriculture operations into the Raccoon River and its tributaries.

The lawsuit asks the Court to order the state to adopt a mandatory clean-plan and a moratorium on new and expanding factory farms – the main contributors to the elevated nitrogen and phosphorus pollution found in the water. The groups are represented by Public Justice, Food & Water Watch, Roxanne Conlin & Associates, and Channing Dutton, of Lawyer, Lawyer, Dutton & Drake LLP.

In spite of the mounting demand for action on water, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds to tout her investment in the failed NRS. Recent Iowa Policy Project reports show her claims ring untrue as well, with the level of water quality funding being lower than it was ten years ago in terms of real dollars.

“We know that DNR is overworked and understaffed. They want to do a good job, and care about our natural resources.” said Tom Mohan, Iowa CCI board president from Sioux City. “This is really a question of political will. We call on Governor Reynolds and the Legislature to provide all Iowans the clean water we demand and deserve.”

Disparaging comments by Ag Secretary Perdue about the future of independent family farms should spur Congressional action

Press Release: October 23, 2019

Contact: Adam Mason, adam@iowacci.org (515) 282-0484

Family farm groups from Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri and South Dakota traveled to Washington, D.C. last week to meet with members of Congress on the causes of the current Farm Crisis, and the failure of the proposed new North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to address those challenges. 

The meetings came two weeks after Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue’s controversial comments about the viability of small family farms and the need for farm operations to get big in order to survive. 

At the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wisconsin, Perdue told a group of small and mid-sized, mostly dairy farmers: “In America, the big get bigger and the small go out. I don’t think in America we, for any small business, have a guaranteed income or guaranteed profitability.” This, while the Trump Administration is subsidizing the largest meatpacker in the world, Brazilian owned JBS, with millions of dollars from U.S. taxpayers.

The big getting bigger and pushing out the small has been strategically sold by corporate agriculture interests to farmers and the general public as the inevitable destiny of U.S. agriculture since the Nixon era. The groups questioned whether Perdue can effectively serve all farmers, including small and mid-sized farmers and ranchers, as Agriculture Secretary.

The groups make up the Campaign for Family Farms and the Environment, which called on Congress to reject the Trump Administration’s proposed U.S.-Mexico-Canada Free Trade Agreement (USMCA, or NAFTA 2.0). For agriculture, the USMCA is a status quo deal that does nothing to address excess corporate control of the agriculture economy where most farmers are losing money and have to rely on off-farm jobs to survive. Instead, the USMCA locks in a system that has greatly benefited multinational agribusiness firms. The Trump Administration chose to ignore a major ask from farm groups – the inclusion of mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) for meat products that would benefit both U.S. ranchers and consumers.

“NAFTA has allowed large corporations like JBS and Smithfield to pad their bottom line at the expense and loss of hundreds of thousands of family farmers,” said Frank Jones, a farmer from SE Iowa and member of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, “Elected officials need to create fair trade policies if they want to help farmers in Iowa and across the Midwest. Not pass another `free trade’ scheme like USMCA.”

“I urge our elected representatives to pass policies that restore and protect an independent family farm system of agriculture, including policies that address corporate control, overproduction and low prices,” said Darvin Bentlage, 4th generation cattle and grain producer from Barton County, MO. “Concentration and corporate ‘free trade’ have allowed multinational corporations in the meatpacking industry to extract wealth from our rural communities and put independent family farmers out of business. Our elected reps need to do better and address what is going on out here and not follow lock-step the policies written by corporations and lobbyists at the expense of our farms, families and communities.”

Kathy Tyler, a Dakota Rural Action member affected by factory farm expansion said, “Somewhere, sometime, somehow, Congress and our local legislators and officials need to start caring about and doing something about the exodus of farm families. They are the backbone of our state and are what keep our small communities alive. If we don’t support them, we will all vanish.” 

Independent family farmer leaders from the four Midwestern states outlined their concerns with the new NAFTA in an oped that ran in the Des Moines Register in August. 

The Campaign for Family Farms and the Environment is composed of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, Dakota Rural Action, Land Stewardship Project (MN), Food & Water Watch, and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.

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Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement members celebrate the 26th county to call for changes to the factory farm industry

Waterloo, IA – This morning the Black Hawk county board of supervisors passed a resolution that petitions the Governor and Iowa legislature for a moratorium on new or expanding factory farms in the state. A moratorium would stop all construction of new or expanding factory farms.

Members of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement call this resolution a step in the right direction in the statewide fight for clean water.

“If we want clean water in Iowa we need a moratorium on factory farms. We have over 10,000 factory farms and hundreds more go up each year,” said Margaret Whiting a Iowa CCI member and Black Hawk resident. “It’s time to stop construction of factory farms and get serious about cleaning up our water.”

This makes Black Hawk county the 26th county to pass a resolution calling for change to industrial agriculture and specifically the factory farm industry.

“It’s time for even more counties to take a stand like Black Hawk county did this morning. We won’t get clean water by doing nothing,” said Ava Auen-Ryan, an organizer at Iowa CCI. “These resolutions show the Governor and elected state officials that Iowans have had enough, and we want them to take Iowa’s water crisis seriously. That means a moratorium.”

Campaign for Family Farms and the Environment leads the fight back against corporate ag in the heartland

July 11, 2019 – In state capitals across the Midwest, opposition to legislation pushed by corporate agriculture lobbyists to favor factory farms continues to grow. The Campaign for Family Farms and the Environment (CFFE), made up of rural-based, family farm membership groups in Minnesota, Iowa, South Dakota and Missouri, organized to hold factory farms and legislators accountable for the harm these operations do to independent family farmers, rural communities, and our water and air.

In each state, family farmers, local elected representatives and citizens, both rural and urban, stood up and acted against factory farm lobbyists and their attempts to pass laws that fuel the industrialization and corporate control of livestock markets, while eroding protections from factory farms:

In Minnesota, the Land Stewardship Project (LSP) successfully beat back a series of efforts by the industry to tilt the playing field toward factory farms by weakening permitting requirements and environmental review of factory farms. Also, though it didn’t pass, LSP built legislative support to repeal the manure lagoon property tax exemption and to reinstate a Citizens’ Board, a powerful tool that would require a public environmental review of factory farms. LSP also won a series of policies that support independent family farmers protecting the land, including additional money for the Forever Green Initiative that helps develop markets for cover crops and perennials; boosts resources for Farm-to-School programs that benefit farmers, kids and rural communities; and increases funding for meat and poultry inspection that is important for independent meat processors and small- and medium-sized livestock farmers who sell directly to consumers.

In Missouri, the Missouri Rural Crisis Center organized a major fight to protect county level, local control over regulating corporate factory farms. Because state protections are almost non-existent, 20 rural counties in Missouri have passed health ordinances that enact common sense safeguards to protect communities from pollution, health impacts and environmental damage caused by corporate-controlled CAFOs. After an enormous fight, the state legislature ultimately passed a bill that strips counties of the right to pass new health ordinances. As part of the campaign, MRCC engaged tens of thousands of Missourians who contacted their legislators to stop this attack on their right to protect their property, air and water and communities from the negative impacts of corporate industrial agriculture. 

“This campaign was about more than protecting Local Control,” said MRCC. “It was focused on undue corporate influence on our government and democratic process, and the negative impacts of factory farms on family farms, rural communities, water and air, and our food system. This example, the taking of local control from our rural counties, shows how willfully out-of-touch our Governor and state legislature are with Missourians from every corner of the state. CAFOs make up only 1/2 of 1% of Missouri’s farming operations, around 500 out of nearly 100,000. Our elected representatives should work to protect the majority of farm families and rural Missourians, instead of a small number of corporate-controlled CAFOs.” MRCC is continuing to organize around the enormous power built during this campaign. 

MRCC also successfully defeated a bill to ban local elected representatives from inspecting corporate CAFOs to enforce local ordinances; and forced a vote on the House floor on an amendment to stop foreign corporate ownership of Missouri farmland

In Iowa, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement built legislative support for two major bills challenging the factory farm industry. One, called for a moratorium on new or expanding factory farms. Iowa currently has over 10,000 factory farms and over 750 impaired waterways. A moratorium would put a halt on the construction of factory farms so Iowa could address the factory farm and clean water crisis in the state. CCI organized to get 20 legislative sponsors/supporters in the House and 5 in the Senate. Another bill closed a tax law loophole that makes factory farm manure pits exempt from property taxation. This preferential property tax treatment shifts the property tax burden onto neighboring small farmers and rural residents. Through a fiscal impact statement, CCI uncovered that at least $4.5 million dollars in revenue are lost through this property tax exemption. If the bill had passed this funding could have been used for infrastructure, education, hospitals or other public entities. Both bills were blocked by Republican leadership despite growing momentum for a moratorium and changes to the factory farm industry. CCI also campaigned against a factory farm industry-backed revised Ag-gag bill, designed to intimidate employees and neighbors of factory farms from exposing unsafe working conditions, animal abuse, and environmental violations. While the law passed, CCI joined a lawsuit with the ACLU and other allies challenging this new bill in the court system. CCI, along with Food and Water Watch and Public Justice, also filed a lawsuit against the state of Iowa in the fight for clean water.

In South Dakota, Dakota Rural Action (DRA) beat back a pair of bills pushed by CAFO backers designed to use public money to incentivize counties to approve new CAFOs. One bill would have allowed up to $200,000 of the contractor’s excise tax (2% on all materials and labor) levied on CAFO construction or improvements to be given to the school district in which the CAFO was built. DRA helped stop the bill, making the case that this would give CAFO investors additional leverage in the permitting process, and this was not the way to fund public education. DRA also helped stop a second tax diversion bill that would have given 50% of all taxes levied during construction or remodeling of a CAFO to the county in which it is located. The Governor’s Office of Economic Development has now started an incentive program strangely similar to these tax diversion bills, which promises counties excise tax kickbacks if they approve CAFOs. DRA is fighting that program county by county. DRA also worked successfully with members on the ground to pass a moratorium on new CAFOs in several South Dakota counties. 

The Campaign for Family Farms and the Environment (CFFE) consists of four Midwest state-based membership organizations and two national organizations fighting against corporate factory farms. CFFE works to oppose national, state and local policies propping up corporate factory farms and damaging independent family farmers, extracting wealth from our rural communities, and polluting our land, water and air. CFFE helps citizens organize and defend local control, preserve the use of public resources for the public good, and apply more democratic decision-making.CFFE is composed of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, Dakota Rural Action, Land Stewardship Project, Food & Water Watch, and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.

And why your county supervisors should pass a resolution calling for one

  • Iowa has too many factory farms. There are 27 million hogs in Iowa according to the DNR. That many hogs produce over 22 billion gallons of manure. That manure is then spread untreated onto fields across the state. Releasing harmful pollutants in our air and water.
  • There are over 750 impaired water bodies in the state; many are polluted due to impacts from Big Ag. More than 200 community water systems struggle with high nitrate levels due to factory farms upstream. We need a moratorium now. The future of Iowa’s water depends on it.
  • The Iowa Department on Natural Resources (DNR) can’t keep up with the factory farms. In the last five years they have discovered 5,000 “unknown” facilities, meanwhile 400-600 factory farms are added each year. At Iowa CCI we say, if you’re in a hole, stop digging!
  • Factory farms are an economic drain on communities. Large corporate owned factory farms extract the profits and leave us with the pollution, lower property values, and ruin our quality of life. What we really need are independent family farms who buy locally, grow locally, and sell locally.
  • We believe in an agricultural system that works for farmers, workers, eaters and the environment. If we want good-paying jobs, clean water and air, and vibrant communities we need independent family farms. Our food and farm system belongs in the hands on many independent family farmers not under the control of a handful of giant corporation. The first step towards this vision of agriculture is a moratorium, no more new or expanded factory farms.

Talk to your county supervisors about passing a moratorium resolution. This non-binding resolution will send a powerful message to elected officials at the state level that everyday folks want a moratorium!

Governor Reynolds spending less on water quality improvement measures, while nutrient pollution from industrial agriculture isn’t getting any better

An Iowa Policy Project (IPP) report released yesterday echoes the state’s own March 2019 progress report showing that Iowa’s voluntary nutrient reduction strategy is insufficient to protect water in Iowa or downstream. The report calls out the state legislature for failing to create any meaningful steps to clean up Iowa’s water crisis.

Members of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI), who recently filed a lawsuit against the state in the fight for clean water, say this new report adds to the mounting evidence that the voluntary nutrient reduction strategy is not helping nutrient pollution get any better.

The report shows that total state spending on water quality has rapidly declined over the last three years. In 2018 Governor Reynolds signed a bill she touted as increasing funding for water quality. In reality though the state is still spending less than before the voluntary nutrient reduction strategy was even created.

 “Governor Reynolds and Republican leadership claim that more money is going to fund nutrient pollution clean-up, but the reality is they are spending less on water quality than before the nutrient reduction strategy was created,” said Cherie Mortice an Iowa CCI member from Polk County. “It’s no secret that the levers of power in the state have been out of whack for a long time. They have continually put the profits of corporate ag over our water, our air, and our quality of life.”

As funding for water quality improvement has decreased, factory farms – a known non-point source polluter – continue to expand at an alarming rate. One in four counties in Iowa have passed resolutions calling for change to this corporate controlled, polluting system of agriculture.

Iowa has over 10,000 factory farms and each year another 200-400 factory farms are built – a number that is anticipated to increase as the Prestage slaughterhouse comes online.

 “The increase in factory farms each year is directly related to the diminished and dangerous quality of our water,” said Barb Kalbach, an Iowa CCI member and 4th generation farmer from Adair County,“They produce over 22 billion gallons of toxic liquid manure each year, that is spread untreated across Iowa and ultimately makes it way to our waterways.”

“If the nutrient reduction strategy remains voluntary and factory farms keep going up Iowa’s water crisis isn’t going to get any better,” said Adam Mason, State Policy Director at Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, “We need mandatory measures and a moratorium on new or expanding factory farms if we want to see any improvement in the over 750 impaired waterways we have in the state.”

In March, Iowa CCI along with Food & Water Watch and Public Justice, filed a lawsuit against the state of Iowa for failure to protect our right to clean water. The game changing lawsuit is calling for a mandatory nutrient reduction strategy and a moratorium on new or expanding factory farms.

“Iowan’s are tired of being told that our interests – our water, our health, our enjoyment of public waters, our drinking water, our pocketbook – must be compromised or balanced with those of corporate ag and other industries willing to destroy our lives for a profit,” said Mason, “Our lawsuit is holding our state to a higher standard – for us, for our kids, and for our grandkids.”