U.S. Water News Online
DAVENPORT, Iowa -- A coalition of conservation groups is
threatening to sue the state, claiming it has failed to enforce the
Clean Water Act and has made little progress in cleaning up Iowa's
polluted lakes, rivers and streams.
"Our standards are extremely weak," said Rich Leopold, head of the
Iowa Environmental Council, which represents 76 conservation groups.
"We've had national experts in here, lawyers that do this thing
nationwide, that have said Iowa is one of the worst in the nation as
far as water-quality standards."
A 2002 survey put 205 Iowa lakes, rivers and streams on its list
of impaired waterways. A new report is expected in January.
Leopold said better monitoring in recent years has made Iowa's
impaired waterways list more accurate, but more needs to be done.
One of the first steps is to bring Iowa's regulations in line with
the Clean Water Act, but legislators have balked at updating the
"We are to the point we have worked on this particular issue for
seven years and nothing has changed," Leopold said.
Gov. Tom Vilsack has said if the state doesn't take action, the
federal government will.
He believes the success of the cleanup depends on the support of
key agriculture groups.
"I think the commodity groups, Farm Bureau in particular, have got
to be more supportive and receptive than they've been," Vilsack said.
"It was pretty much the Farm Bureau and ag groups that prevented this
from happening last year."
Last January, the governor set out an ambitious goal of cleaning
up Iowa's waterways by 2010, but lawmakers, faced with a tight
budget, failed to earmark any additional money for monitoring or
"We just can't seem to squeeze it out of them," Leopold said. "I
think this year we have a better chance."
Republican lawmakers say resources are limited.
"It'd be great if you could spend another $100 million, but where
are you going to get it from?" said Senate Republican President Jeff
Lamberti, of Ankeny.
Lamberti disagrees with Vilsack's assessment that farm groups have
blocked progress. He said some of the largest polluters are cities
that discharge wastewater into Iowa's rivers.
Rick Robinson, an environmental policy adviser with the Iowa Farm
Bureau, said farmers have helped to improve the quality of Iowa's
waters through buffer strips and wetlands that filter pollution
before it reaches rivers and streams. He points to statistics that
show soil erosion, which allows fertilizers to wash into waterways,
was cut nearly in half between 1982 and 1987.
"I don't think the public understands the progress that has been
made," he said. "And it's easy for a politician to point their finger
at a group and say there's a problem."
Robinson said the best way to ensure progress is by providing
incentives for farm conservation programs.
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