New anti-degradation regulations effective today despite criticism

A construction site on the Iowa River near Dubuque Street in Iowa City, Iowa. (Jenna Ladd/CGRER)
Jenna Ladd | August 12, 2016

Major changes to Iowa’s water quality protection rules are effective today, following a decision by the Environmental Protection Commission (EPC) on Wednesday.

The Environmental Protection Commission, an agency that oversees the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR), voted to change anti-degradation rules this week despite criticism from two Iowa environmental groups. Under previous regulation, construction projects that would pollute Iowa’s waterways were required to perform a three-part analysis of the project, including a cost-benefit analysis that considered pollution-reducing alternatives.

After a District Court judge ruled that DNR failed to enforce anti-degradation regulation in March, The Iowa Association of Business and Industry, the Iowa League of Cities, and the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities petitioned for changes to water pollution standards. Proponents of the changes say that the cost-benefit analysis was too unclear and expensive for businesses looking to build or expand operations. Under new rule, cost-benefit analysis is no longer required.

The Iowa Environmental Council and the Environmental Law & Policy Center argue that the regulation change fails to consider the environment, ignoring the value of pollution reduction and economic cost of contaminated water. Environmental Law & Policy Center attorney Josh Mandelbaum said EPC rushed the decision, “This is the fastest I’ve seen rule-making move.”

The formation of previous water pollution and anti-degradation rules took regulators two years and involved stakeholders from municipalities, industry, and concerned citizens. In contrast, the establishment of new regulations spans a five month period. Mandelbaum added, “DNR has made no effort to bring stakeholders together to address these changes, and as a result, the final rules have significant problems.”

Several stream gauges shut down around Iowa

The U.S.G.S. provides realtime streamflow compared to historical streamflow for each day of the year (U.S.G.S.)
Jenna Ladd | July 13, 2016

Several U.S. Geological Survey (U.S.G.S.) stream gauges around Iowa were deactivated this month, according to The Gazette of Cedar Rapids. The gauges were initially installed after major floods in 2010 and 2012. Since then, they have cost about 2 million a year to maintain, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Their primary function is to measure the level of the river water and the volume of the water passing through in cubic feet per second.

Many Iowans are concerned about the impacts the deactivation of these gauges may have on accurate and timely predictions of major floods. When recalling the devastating flood of the Wapsipinicon River in 2008, Brenda Leonard, Jones County Emergency Coordinator, says that a warning like those given by river gauges would have been extremely helpful for the community of Anamosa.

While the budget for stream gauges has not been reduced, the cost associated with maintaining them has risen in recent years. In efforts to keep the gauges in service, public and private funding partners have come forward for the Turkey River in Spillville, the Cedar River in Cedar Bluff and the West Nishnabotna and East Nishnabotna rivers near Riverton.

Deactivated gauges in Eastern Iowa include the Volga River in Fayette, the North Fork Maquoketa River below Bear Creek at Dyersville, the Wapsipinicon River in Oxford Mills, the Cedar River in Osage, the Shell Rock River near Rockford and Indian Creek in Marion.

ISU study finds Iowa rivers offer big economic boost

Photo by tony_bibbs, Flickr

Last week, we made a post about how Iowans have increased pride in our state’s rivers. Now, a study is indicating that Iowa’s rivers also give a large boost to our economy.

According to the study, the 73 Iowa rivers that were looked at generated 6,350 jobs, $824 million in sales and $130 million is personal income.

This study was conducted by the Iowa State University Department of Economics and Center for Agricultural and Rural Development.

Read more about the study from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources here.

Iowans have increased pride in local rivers

Paddling in the Wapsipinicon River. Photo by sundaykofax, Flickr.

An article from The Gazette indicates that Iowans have become more enthusiastic about the state’s rivers in recent years.

The report suggests that Iowans are increasingly interested in the recreational possibilities of the rivers. This increased attention has also led to an increase in clean water advocacy.

Earlier this week, we highlighted the efforts of Charles City in enhancing their section of the Cedar River. Check out a radio segment on that topic here.

Read The Gazette’s article here.

On the Radio: New mapping system prepares Iowans for floods

Photo by Joe Germuska, Flickr.

Listen to this week’s radio feature here.  It discusses a new online tool, provided by the Iowa Flood Center, that will help you keep track of flooding in your area.

In recent years repeated flooding has devastated Iowa communities. Thankfully, a new online resource is available to help Iowans prevent future flood damage. Continue reading