Under proposed bill, farm advocates would monitor water quality

Photo by Jim Malewitz

At a time when Iowa’s waters are at their dirtiest, a group of House legislators wants to assign a partner of the state’s biggest polluters to monitor the cleanliness of its lakes, rivers and streams.

The vast preponderance of Iowa’s water pollution comes from the fertilizers and pesticides that run off of farmland.

But on Monday, a House subcommittee began discussing HSB 180 – a bill that would transfer enforcement duties of section 319 of the Clean Water Act from the Department of Natural Resources to the Department of Agriculture and Land and Stewardship (DALS), a department that lists “to provide leadership for all aspects of agriculture in Iowa,” as its primary goal.

Section 319 of the act deals explicitly with monitoring water nonpoint source pollution, also known as farm runoff.

That idea proposed in the bill worries state environmental groups.

“We believe that Secretary Northey and his department are very capable and trusted advocates for Iowa’s agricultural economy,” said Lynn Laws, communications director of the Iowa Environmental Council, in a release. “But the primary mission and priorities of his department are not about protecting water quality.”

Rep. Steve Olson – R, Clinton, said he supports the bill as a cost-cutting measure.

KCCI TV reports:

“The secretary of agriculture has talked about he has the ability to run it with a few less staffers so we’ll just have to wait and see,” said Clinton County Rep. Steve Olson. Olson said he’s heard the critics. But he’s convinced the Department of Agriculture has “better accessibility to federal funds to improve water quality across Iowa.”

Four lobbyists for the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation have also registered their support of the bill.

Considering the historical resistance of such agricultural groups to regulation of natural resources, Laws said, the shift in oversight “could put politics before sound science.”

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