The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) finally released a long-awaited report on "impaired waters" and the information is damning. While it is technically still in draft form (and open to public comments until December 28th), the 2018 Impaired Waters Report indicates some key findings. The biggest takeaway, of course, is that Iowa’s water crisis is only getting worse.
Background on Iowa's water report
The federal Clean Water Act requires that states submit a list of threatened or impaired waters to the EPA every two years. Once a body of water is placed on the impaired waters list, the state is also supposed to create a clean-up plan so that the stream can ultimately be removed from the list. States are supposed to submit impaired waterways reports by April 1st in each odd-numbered year; Iowa routinely fails to meet this deadline.
Often the state releases the impaired waters report in May, but this year we’re only now seeing it-- six months late. The reason for the delay is unclear. However, we know one thing is true: the Iowa legislature is not taking meaningful action or providing enough resources to truly address our water quality crisis.
Damning Findings from the Iowa Impaired Waters Report
The number of impaired waters in Iowa has grown by 2% since 2016.
Fourteen new water bodies made the list this year, with a total of 622 river, lake and wetlands failing to meet federal water quality standards. The state doesn’t even assess all of Iowa’s water. 48% of river and stream segments, 39% of lake and reservoir segments, and 17% of wetland segments were not assessed to see if they even met water quality standards this cycle-- if they had, it’s likely the total number would have been much higher.
Iowa now has 831 water impairments.
There is a greater number of impairments than bodies of water on the list; this is because some water bodies have multiple forms of impairment. For example, Eldred Sherwood Lake in Hancock County is on the list twice because of unsafe levels of E. coli as well as the presence of harmful algae. These impairments impact more than 1,000 miles of rivers and streams and nearly 60,000 acres of lakes, ponds and wetlands throughout Iowa.
Bacteria and algal growth were the number one cause of impairments.
Both bacteria and algal growth are a result of excess fertilizer and animal waste. Bacteria indicates that untreated animal waste has run off or spilled into a water body. It’s incredibly dangerous to human health and limits the kinds of water-based recreation that Iowans can engage in. And algal growths often occur as a result of large quantities of nitrate and phosphorus enter our waterways. Like bacteria, this is a consequence of manure and other agricultural fertilizers being overapplied and misapplied on cropland.
The Culprit Behind Iowa’s Water Crisis: Factory Farms
At the rate we’re going, Iowans can kiss access to clean water goodbye. In 1998, we clocked in 159 water impairments-- we’ve seen a five-fold increase in only two decades. In a single generation, we have decimated Iowa’s water. As the Impaired Waters Report proves, manure from factory farms is perhaps the single greatest threat to our lakes, rivers, and wetlands. Iowa’s 10,000 factory farms produce more than 22 billion gallons of manure each year -- enough manure to fill Iowa’s tallest building, the Principal Building in Des Moines, more than two times every single day. We have more manure than we have land to apply it on. It is time our elected officials set aside what’s best for multi-billion-dollar agribusinesses and focus on what’s best for us, their constituents, instead. We must enact bold solutions in order to ensure our right to clean water. The first step is a moratorium on new and expanding factory farms.
Iowa’s Water Will Be a Hot Topic in 2020
During the 2020 state legislative session, Food & Water Action will be pressing legislators to support bills calling for a moratorium on factory farms in both the House and Senate. Similar legislation has been introduced over the past two years, with 25 legislators expressing support during the 2019 session.
Unfortunately, despite growing concerns about Iowa’s water quality from elected officials and their constituents across the state, Rep. Dean Fisher (R, HD-72) refused to assign the House moratorium bill to a subcommittee, while Senator Dan Zumbach (R, SD-48) waited to assign the Senate moratorium bill until right before the deadline. These actions effectively thwarted any meaningful discussion about the bills.
We’re not going anywhere. The impaired waterways report is one more indication that our waters have been sacrificed for Big Ag. Join us as we demand a solution to this growing crisis. We’ll be holding a Stop Factory Farms Lobby Day on January 23, 2020, to demand that our legislators take a stand to protect our water, our communities, and our independent family farmers from factory farms.