Iowa joins 13 other states challenging EPA water rule

The Raccoon River near Walnut Woods States Park in Des Moines, Iowa. (Christine Warner Hawks/Flickr)
The Raccoon River near Walnut Woods State Park in Des Moines, Iowa. (Christine Warner Hawks/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | November 18, 2015

Governor Terry Branstad announced Tuesday that Iowa will join 13 other states in challenging the U.S Environmental Protection Agency’s Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule.

The challenge is part of a current court case in the U.S. District Court of North Dakota Southwestern Division against the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers. In a press statement, Branstad called the rule “a federal overreach that imposes significant barriers and impairs Iowa’s ability to advance innovative, water quality practices that would actually advance our common goal of water quality.”

Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds said the rule is “an overreach by the federal government that hurts Iowa farmers and small businesses” and applauded efforts by Iowa senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst and other Iowa congressional delegates to combat the rule. She said she hopes the rule is withdrawn so “Iowa can continue to improve water quality through the collaborative and innovate Nutrient Reduction Strategy.”

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey said, “The misguided WOTUS rulemaking process has created uncertainty and has threatened to impede our efforts to get conservation and water quality practices on the ground. Joining this lawsuit is the right thing to do and I hope that ultimately the courts will overturn the rule.”

Federal officials say the rule is necessary “to limit pollution in small waterways and wetlands that 117 million Americans depend on for drinking water.”

Other states challenging the rule include: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming.


On The Radio: Iowa utility to phase out old coal plants, make upgrades

Iowa's investment in wind energy has lessened the state's need to implement measures to be in compliance with the EPA's new Clean Air Act. (Michael Leland/Flickr)
Iowa’s investment in wind energy has lessened the state’s need to implement measures to be in compliance with the EPA’s new Clean Air Act. (Michael Leland/Flickr)
Setpember 14, 2015

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at an Iowa utility that is phasing out old coal plants and making energy-efficient upgrades to newer plants to be in compliance with the EPA’s Clean Air Act. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Transcript: Iowa utility to phase out old coal plants, make upgrades

A Clean Air Act settlement with Iowa’s second largest power provider will help Iowans breathe easy in coming years.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Interstate Power and Light, a subsidiary of Alliant Energy, will install new pollution controls at two coal-fired plants and retire five other coal-fired plants by 2025 as part of a settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The power company began negotiations with the EPA in 2011 after modifications at their Lansing and Ottumwa plants were found to cause increases in sulfur dioxide and smog-causing nitrogen oxides.

These pollutants in addition to increased particulate matter in the atmosphere can cause significant health problems for Iowans.

In addition to the estimated $620 million in equipment costs, Interstate Power and Light will spend $6 million on environmental mitigation projects and pay a $1.1 million fine as part of the settlement.

For more information about Iowa air quality, visit

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

Iowa farm groups concerned about new EPA water rules

The Raccoon River near Walnut Woods State Park in Des Moines. (Christine Warner Hawks/Flickr)
The Raccoon River near Walnut Woods State Park in Des Moines. (Christine Warner Hawks/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | May 29, 2015

Iowa farm groups have expressed concerns over new clean water rules unveiled Wednesday by the U.S Environmental Protection Agency.

Leaders of several Iowa farm groups have expressed concerns over the new rules – outlined in a nearly 300-page document – citing that would “infringe on their land rights and saddle them with higher costs.” Iowa Farm Bureau president Craig Hill said the new rules fail to address concerns farmers expressed when the first draft of the new Clean Water Act regulations was released last.

“The permitting process is very cumbersome, awkward and expensive,” Hill said in an interview with Radio Iowa. “And, according to what we read in this new rule, farmers will be required to get permits for things they’ve never been required to get permits for before.”

At the national level, the Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, American Farm Bureau Federation, Dairy Farmers of America, and roughly 225 other organizations have teamed up to oppose the new rule. Some congressional republicans as well as farm state democrats have also voiced concerns about the new rule, including Iowa senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst.

Despite the criticism, the rule has been applauded by groups such as the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Sierra Club, Environment America,  and the Natural Resources Defense Council which called the rule “‘a significant fix’ for tens of millions of acres of wetlands and thousands of streams that contribute to the drinking water for 117 million Americans.”

The new rule is part of the 1972 Clean Water Act which gave the federal government authority to limit pollution in major major water bodies, such as the Mississippi River, as well as streams and rivers that drain into the larger water. The most revision to the rule applies to about 60 percent of the nation’s rivers, lakes, streams, and wetlands.

Animal manure could create a new energy market in Iowa

A screenshot of the Iowa Biogas Assessment Model website potential for ag waste across the state. (Iowa Biogas Assessment Model)
A screenshot of the Iowa Biogas Assessment Model website potential for ag waste across the state. (Iowa Biogas Assessment Model)

Nick Fetty | April 23, 2015

Iowa could soon use the byproducts from two of its biggest industries – crop and livestock production – to create a new market in renewable fuel production, according to a report in Midwest Energy News.

This potential new market is the result of policy and economics. Last summer, a revision to EPA’s Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) increased the value of biogas in the fuel marketplace. The revision means biogas will be added to the list of advanced cellulosic biofuels which refineries must either produce or purchase credits for. The quantity of cellulosic fuels that must be blended with gasoline is expected to increase over the next eight years which means higher prices for renewable fuels. Amanda Bilek, government affairs manager at the Great Plains Institute in Minneapolis, said this change to the RFS has created a new market for fuels produced using manure and other organic waste.

A 2013 report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory found that Iowa led the nation in manure production. The study also examined methane content in not just manure but also wastewater, landfills and industrial as well as commercial organic waste. The Hawkeye State ranked 8th nationally for methane generation potential.

Iowa State University teamed up with EcoEngineers out of Des Moines to create an interactive map and website which calculates the amount of methane-containing waste within up to a 50-mile radius. Biogas production in Iowa has been modest thus far but officials expect the industry to grow in the coming years.

UMichigan study examines potential for urine as fertilizer

A recent study at the University of Michigan examines the potential of using human urine to fertilize food crops. (Twitter/Michigan Engineering)
Researchers at the University of Michigan set up porta-potties on campus Wednesday to collect urine samples for fertilizer research. (Twitter/Michigan Engineering)

Nick Fetty | April 2, 2015

Researchers at the University of Michigan’s College of Engineering are studying whether human urine can be disinfected and then used to fertilize food crops.

The researchers set up two porta-potties on campus Wednesday and were able to collect samples from more than 200 individuals. The study is focusing on urine because of its abundance as well as its nitrogen and phosphorus content. The researchers hope to use the urine to create a solid fertilizer product known as “struvite.” Not only can the urine be beneficial for plant growth but removing it from sewage waste streams has other benefits such as: (1) reducing nutrients in waterways, (2) streamlining wastewater treatment, (3) tackling the issue of pharmaceutical contamination, and (4) lessening the need to make synthetic fertilizers.

“These nutrients often remain in the effluent that wastewater treatment plants discharge back into rivers. In waterways, nutrient pollution can lead to algal blooms and dead zones where fish can’t survive,” the press release said. “They can also produce toxins that could taint drinking water. Beyond nutrients, urine carries most of the excess pharmaceuticals that our bodies don’t use when we take medications.”

The study is funded with a $2.2 million grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and is part of the country’s first “large-scale pilot project” for recycling urine. The University of Michigan is working with four other institutions on the project including the Rich Earth Institute in Brattleboro, Vermont.

Read more about the Toilet To Table project.

Iowa could soon face water situation similar to Toledo

Nick Fetty | August 7, 2014
Blue green algae growing on Lake Eric. ( NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory/Flickr)
Blue green algae growing on Lake Erie. (NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory/Flickr)

Algae blooms in Iowa could contaminate the water supply, similar to what recently happened in Toledo, and according to one expert, “it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.”

High levels of nitrogen and phosphorus inundate Iowa waterways and that coupled with high temperatures provides the perfect breeding ground for algae. The state has implemented a voluntary plan which encourages farmers to practice agricultural techniques that will lessen the amount of fertilizer run-off which leads to contaminated waterways in Iowa.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently advised beach-goers to avoid the waters at Lake Red Rock in Marion County due to excessively high levels of blue green algae which is known to contain toxins that are harmful to humans and can be lethal for animals. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources advises swimmers to take extra precaution in Iowa lakes during this time of the year. There are currently about dozen state-operated beaches in Iowa where swimming is not advised.

Attornys general from Iowa and 14 other agricultural and ranching states have spoken out against a recent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed rule for the Clean Water Act, fearing the proposal would place excessive regulations on farmers and ranchers. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy has defended the proposal and said it does not intend to place strict federal regulations on farmers.

Approximately 600 households in southwest Iowa were recently issued a boil order before consuming tap water after water quality tests concluded that chlorine levels were not sufficient. Chlorine is used to kill bacteria and other harmful toxins as part of the water filtration process but there was no indication that bacteria or other toxins had actually contaminated the water supply.

On the Radio: University of Iowa Air Quality Grant

Photo by; Flickr

This week’s On the Radio segment covers a study by the University of Iowa that was funded by a grant from the EPA. Continue reading for the transcript, or listen to the audio below.

Continue reading