Iowa CCI Slams Impaired Waterways Report

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.”