On The Radio- Water quality takes center stage at Farm Progress Show


Des Moines Water Works
Water quality improvement strategies were discussed at this year’s farm show following the Des Moines’ Waterworks lawsuit against three Iowa counties due to high levels of nitrates that were drained into drinking water. (Tony Webster/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | September 19, 2016

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses the emphasis on water quality at this year’s Farm Progress Show in Boone, Iowa.

Transcript:  Water quality was on the main stage at this year’s Farm Progress Show.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Held in Boone, Iowa every summer, the Farm Progress Show aims to educate farmers about new technology for their fields, covering everything from tractor equipment to new seed strains. This year’s show emphasized the importance of water quality.

In twenty-fifteen Des Moines Water Works sued three north western Iowa counties for polluting the drinking water of over five-hundred thousand Des Moines residents. Water Works claims that Sac, Buena Vista and Calhoun counties’ ag drainage systems transported high levels of nitrates from farms into the Raccoon River.

The Iowa Agricultural Water Alliance released a statement at the show, saying that creating and implementing effective solutions to water quality challenges would create economic development in rural Iowa. The alliance aims to identify gaps in building a “conservation infrastructure” that would result in less nitrate and phosphorus runoff from Iowa farms.

The Des Moines Water Works trial was set to begin in August of this year but has been delayed and is now rescheduled to begin in late June of twenty-seventeen.

For more information on the Iowa Agricultural Water Alliance and the Farm Progress Show, visit Iowa environmental focus dot com.

From the UI Center for Regional and Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

Experts say improving Iowa’s water quality could take decades


A stream near Elgin, Iowa, part of the Turkey River Watershed (KC McGinnis / CGRER)
A stream near Elgin, Iowa, part of the Turkey River Watershed (KC McGinnis / CGRER)
Nick Fetty | March 16, 2016

Water quality researchers across the state say that it will take decades to reduce nutrient concentration in Iowa waterways and that much of the problem can be attributed to the current voluntary approach to nutrient reduction as well as the unpredictability of the weather.

University of Iowa hydrologist Keith Schilling said he expects the cleanup of Iowa’s waterways to take several years.

“This is a long-term process to measure (nutrient reduction) progress at the large watershed scale. It will take many years, if not decades, to see changes,” Schilling said in an interview with the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

The ability to improve water quality in Iowa is further complicated by two other issues: the voluntary approach of Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy (NRS) and unpredictable weather patterns.

Iowa’s NRS was developed by scientists and researchers at Iowa State University, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources in 2013. The strategy outlines voluntary ways farmers, watershed managers, and other landowners can improve water quality through agricultural practices (buffer strips, cover crops, etc.) and other conservation measures. Critics of the NRS – such as Des Moines Water Works CEO Bill Stowe – say that the voluntary approach is ineffective and does little to improve water quality.

Stowe has been behind a lawsuit between Des Moines Water Works and three northern Iowa counties. The water utility alleges that the counties are not doing enough to reduce nutrient pollution and that the water utility is then burdened with additional treatment processes. A recent Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa poll found that 60 percent of those surveyed support Des Moines Water Works in the lawsuit.

Unpredictable weather patterns have also contributed to the difficulty of improving Iowa’s water quality. University of Iowa hydrologist Keith Schilling said one example of this is drought experienced in 2012 followed by an unusually wet 2013 which led to an increase in nutrients in Iowa waterways. Shilling said that nutrient loads have seen little change statewide since 1998 but changes were easier to indentify in subwatersheds where conservation measures have been installed.

On The Radio – Proposal would use school funding to improve water quality


Iowa governor Terry Branstad during a state budget hearing in Des Moines on December 15, 2015 (John Pemble/Flickr)
Iowa governor Terry Branstad during a state budget hearing in Des Moines on December 15, 2015 (John Pemble/Flickr)
Nick Fetty | January 25, 2016

This week’s On The Radio segment looks at a recent proposal by Iowa governor Terry Branstad that would use funding dedicated for schools to improve water quality across the state.

Transcript: Proposal would use school funding to improve water quality

A proposal by Iowa governor Terry Branstad would use funding dedicated for school building and technology projects to improve water quality in the state.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus

Earlier this month, Governor Branstad announced a proposal that would extend Iowa’s 1-percent sales tax 20 years – to 2049 – while diverting a portion of future sales tax growth for water quality improvement projects. The extension is expected to generate an additional 20-point-7 billion dollars for schools and 4-point-6 billion dollars to improve water quality.

This announcement comes on the heels of a lawsuit between the Des Moines Water Works and three northern Iowa counties. The water utility claims that the counties are not doing enough to prevent nitrate runoff from their fields which eventually enter the Raccoon River, which has forced the Des Moines Water Works to operate additional machinery to remove nitrates from drinking water.

The legislature will likely be looking at this proposal as well as others to address the need for future water quality funding.

For more information about the governor’s proposal visit Iowa-Environmental-Focus-dot-org

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

Proposal would use school funding to improve water quality


Iowa governor Terry Branstad during a state budget hearing in Des Moines on December 15, 2015 (John Pemble/Flickr)
Iowa governor Terry Branstad during a state budget hearing in Des Moines on December 15, 2015 (John Pemble/Flickr)
Nick Fetty | January 6, 2016

A recent proposal by Iowa governor Terry Branstad would use funding from Iowa’s 1-percent school building sales tax to improve water quality in the state.

The proposal would extend the sales tax – set to expire in 2029 – to 2049. The extension is expected to provide $20.7 billion for schools and $4.6 billion to improve water quality. The proposal by the Republican governor has been backed by former Iowa governor and current U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, a Democrat.

“It’s so important to every, single Iowan,” Vilsack said during a press conference. “If this doesn’t get resolved, these farmers wont know what to do, they’re bankers wont know what to lend, they wont be interested in buying equipment…the local schools obviously wont benefit. I mean, there’s a tremendous need for immediate action here.”

The 1-percent sales tax – which was approved in 2008 – brings in about $400 million each year to be used for school infrastructure projects. The governor’s proposal comes by on the heels of a lawsuit between Iowa’s largest water utility and three counties north of Des Moines. Representatives with the Des Moines Water Works claim that authorities in the northern Iowa counties of Buena Vista, Calhoun, and Sac are not doing enough to prevent nitrate runoff from farm fields which is forcing the water utility to operate costly equipment to remove additional nitrates from drinking water.

Opponents of the governor’s proposal feel that it will not do enough to reduce farm chemical runoff. Democratic Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs has also expressed concerns about the measure.

The funding proposal must be approved by the Iowa legislative before going into effect. Iowa’s 2016 legislate session begins January 11.

Des Moines water bills expected to increase 10 percent in 2016


The Des Moines River near downtown Des Moines. (Michael Leland/Flickr)
The Des Moines River near downtown Des Moines. (Michael Leland/Flickr)
Nick Fetty | December 30, 2015

As 2015 wraps up, Des Moines residents can prepare for a 10 percent increase on their water bills in 2016.

The rate increase comes in the midst of a lawsuit between the Des Moines Water Works and three northern Iowa drainage districts. The water utility claims the drainage districts are not doing enough to prevent nitrate pollution in public waterways which has forced the utility to operate its Nitrate Removal Facility. The additional equipment costs up to $7,000 per day to operate which is eventually passed on to the more than a quarter of a million customers in the Des Moines area.

Rates are expected to go up in April of 2016. Bill Stowe – CEO of the Des Moines Water Works – recently told Iowa Public Radio that it will cost $80 million to update its nitrate removal system and that he’s been disappointed by the state’s political leadership regarding the situation.

“I’m particularly disappointed in the last year that we haven’t had political leadership from either party in Iowa to step forward and move this towards some kind of negotiated settlement…We believe we’re going to prevail in a court of law.”

Stowe added, “If we don’t [previal] we believe there will be big public policy consequences from that.”

A lawyer representing the water districts is arguing that the districts little authority outside of draining land and therefore cannot be held accountable “for damages that result from actions over which the districts have no control,” as reported by the Sioux City Journal. Earlier this year a motion was filed asking U.S. District Court Judge Mark W. Bennett to drop eight of the 10 charges against the drainage districts.

Bennett expects to have a ruling on the issue by mid-January.

Iowa awarded $5M+ for water quality improvement projects


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(USDAgov/Flickr)

 

Nick Fetty | January 15, 2015

The federal government has awarded more than $5 million as part of a conservation project that aims to clean up waterways in the Hawkeye State.

The state of Iowa will receive $3.5 million for the project while the city of Cedar Rapids will get $2.1 million. The funding is part of U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack’s $370 million Regional Conservation Partnership Program. An additional $400 million is expected to be leveraged by other groups participating in the program. The program aims to “cut down on fertilizer runoff, expand bird nesting areas, and restore native grasslands” in an effort to improve water quality across the country.

This project brings together a wide variety of partners from private companies to universities to local and tribal governments and gives these entities the opportunity to develop their own unique plans. In addition to the conservation efforts, this program is also expected to create jobs.

“This is an entirely new approach to conservation efforts,” Vilsack said in a press release. “These partnerships empower communities to set priorities and lead the way on conservation efforts important for their region. They also encourage private sector investment so we can make an impact that’s well beyond what the Federal government could accomplish on its own.”

This funding comes on the heels of announcement by Des Moines Water Works to pursue a lawsuit against three Iowa counties for failing to manage nitrate levels in the Raccoon River.

State could face possible lawsuit for water quality issues


Des Moines Water Works utilizes the Des Moines River (pictured) and the Raccoon Rivers as its two main water sources. (Phil Roeder/Flickr)
The Des Moines Water Works utilizes the Des Moines River (pictured) and the Raccoon River as its two main water sources. (Phil Roeder/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | January 6, 2015

The Des Moines Water Works – Iowa’s largest water utility – is considering bringing a lawsuit against the state challenging the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

Last month an unusually high surge of nitrate levels in the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers forced officials with the Des Moines Water Works to activate its nitrate removal facility which costs roughly $7,000 per day to operate. These costs have been passed on to the Des Moines Water Works’ more than a quarter of a million customers. High nitrate levels that go untreated can lead to multiple health complications such as blue baby syndrome as well as various cancers and miscarriages.

Bill Stowe – CEO and General Manager of the Des Moines Water Works – has been critical of state’s voluntary nutrient-reduction strategy. In an editorial he wrote for the Des Moines Register in October 2014, Stowe stated: “Until industrial agriculture is no longer exempt from regulations needed to protect water quality, we will continue to see water quality degrade and our consumers will continue to pay.”

The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy “is voluntary for farmers [and] calls for a 45 percent reduction in nitrogen and phosphorus pollution leaving the state.” Critics of the strategy say that the voluntary approach has been ineffective in improving Iowa’s water quality.

The Des Moines Water Works board of directors is scheduled to meet Thursday and a decision on whether to bring legal action against the state may be discussed at that meeting.