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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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!

Don’t miss out out: learn about our lawsuit and how we turn the tide for clean water

At the end of March, we sued the state for failing to protect our right to clean water. Now we are heading out to connect with folks from across the state who are ready to turn the tide for clean water.

These are meetings you won’t want to miss!

At these community meetings, you’ll learn:

  • the history behind the lawsuit and how this ties into our existing moratorium campaign
  • the details about our game changing public trust doctrine lawsuit
  • ways to connect with others in your area to plug into the statewide movement saying YES to clean water and NO MORE factory farms!

Check out where we are hosting these meetings below and be sure to RSVP for the meeting nearest you.

Waterloo, April 23 @ 6:30 PM 
Waterloo Center for the Arts – Visual Arts Studio
225 Commercial Street Waterloo, IA 50701
RSVP for the Waterloo location here.

Nevada, April 25 @ 7 PM 
Nevada Public Library
631 K Ave. Nevada, IA 50201
RSVP for the Nevada location here.

Iowa City, May 1 @ 6:30 PM 
Catholic Worker House
1414 Sycamore St. Iowa City, IA 52240
RSVP for the Iowa City location here.

Davenport, May 8 @ 6:30 PM 
Location TBD
RSVP for the Davenport location here.

Sioux City, May 9 @ 6:30 PM
First Unitarian Church
2508 Jackson St. Sioux City, IA 51104
RSVP for the Sioux City location here.

Rockwell City, May 14 @ 6:30 PM 
Rockwell City Community Center
424 Main Street Rockwell City, IA 50579
RSVP for the Rockwell City location here.

Clear Lake, May 16 @ 6:30 PM
Clear Lake Public Library
200 N 4th St. Clear Lake, IA 50428
RSVP for the Clear Lake location here.

Decorah, May 21 @ 6:30 PM
The Lingonberry
218 W Water St. Decorah, IA 52101
RSVP for the Decorah location here.

We are hitting so many places because we want to talk to as many folks as possible about our clean water fight – we need everybody in.

RSVP for the roadshow closest to you and bring your friends!

Join, donate, chip in now to support this legal action – let’s turn the tide for clean water!

We believe families belong together – not in cages or jails.

You asked for it – and we delivered! Today we officially launched a statewide toolkit designed to provide content, resources, materials, and strategy that will help local communities keep ICE out of Iowa.

Read the full toolkit here. 

Why a toolkit?

In June, we held a series of ‘Keep ICE Out of Iowa’ meetings across the state. Hundreds of you gathered together for in-depth discussions with national immigrant rights organizers about how everyday people could create safer communities for all while blocking ICE operations in our own neighborhoods.

We covered a lot of material during those discussions. Folks had a lot of great ideas – and many wanted to do more in their own towns. We created this toolkit to give you a starting point to organize in your own communities.

How was this toolkit created?

Iowa CCI and American Friends Service Committee spent the next two months reviewing feedback from these events and surveyed immigrant families in Central Iowa. We asked families to identify fears and concerns they had with living and working in Iowa. We also reviewed the anti-immigrant law Senate File 481 and projected potential issues that law would cause for immigrant families and people of color.

We took ALL of this information a began crafting local solutions that would address these problems, create safer and more welcoming communities, and most importantly – get ICE out of Iowa.

How do I use this toolkit?

This toolkit is intended to meet people where they are at in their communities. Some folks have strong connections with immigrant families and are ready to push elected officials for bold solutions while others may be just beginning to organize around immigrant rights. Either way, the information in this toolkit will guide you in the right direction.

In order to make the most of this guide, it’s up to you to take action and get the ball rolling. We’re here to help you along the way.

What information is in the toolkit?

This toolkit covers a wide range of topics from educational efforts like ‘Know Your Rights’ information and trainings to rapid response planning in preparation for potential ICE raids to organizing campaigns that call on elected officials to implement progressive policies and practices that benefit immigrant families.

Read the full toolkit here.

Want to get more involved?

Senators Grassley and Ernst will be holding town hall meetings on April 18 and April 20.

Town halls are a great opportunity to raise our issues and hold elected officials accountable back home in their districts. It’s our job to remind them that they work for we the people, not big corporations and Wall St. that want to cut our safety net to line their already wealthy pockets.

Sen. Ernst’s town hall will be Tuesday, April 18:

  • 1pm: Wall Lake Community Center, 101 Boyer St, Wall Lake

Sen. Grassley’s two town halls will be:

  • Tuesday, April 18: 2:30pm at Keokuk County Courthouse, 101 S. Main St., Sigourney
  • Thursday, April 20: 10am at Iowa State Bank, 500 Audubon St., Sac City

Attend a town hall and ask a question about issues you care about the most!  We’ve heard that Medicaid and SNAP benefits (also known as food stamps) could be on the chopping block during this Congress.

Here’s a few talking points if you’re able to ask a question on one of these issues:

  • Our Medicaid should be controlled by us, it is here to take care of our family, friends, and neighbors, it should not exist to line the pockets of private corporations with our tax dollars.
  • The average monthly SNAP benefit in Iowa is $108 dollars and for every dollar spent on SNAP, it generates $1.80 in economic activity in the state.
  • Block-granting these programs doesn’t provide “flexibility” to states – it’s a benefit cut.  Block granting eliminates the ability for these programs to respond to increased need that results from rising poverty and unemployment during economic downturns.

For more information or to run a question past us, call the office at 515-282-0484!