Iowa Water Quality Dispute

EPA targeting agricultural producers on Clean Water Act

The Iowa Environmental Council and the Environmental Law and Policy Center are seeking new rules for the state which set numeric (a specific number) water quality standards for significant public recreational lakes in the state.

Iowa's water standard today is a narrative standard which says public and recreational lakes should be free from "nuisance aquatic life"

No one can disagree with the desire to have clean recreational lakes.

The Iowa environmentalists filed a petition on August 20, 2013, with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. We are likely to see more of these petitions filed in Midwestern agricultural states which use nutrients to produce corn and soybeans. The petition is simple and direct in its approach but will directly and eventually have an impact on Iowa's corn and soybean producers.

The petition never mentions agriculture and talks about "Excessive phosphorus and nitrogen pollution leading to harmful algae blooms in Iowa's lakes. These algae blooms are threats to public health and to the economic wellbeing of Iowa's lake communities."

The Iowa petition encloses a brief in support of its proposed rulemaking which I have been unable to obtain. In addition, the petition includes a 2008 report of Nutrient Science Advisors headed by an Iowa State University professor. The Environmental Council petition claims the numeric water quality standards it desires for Iowa are based on the recommendations of the Iowa Nutrient Science Advisors' Committee.

Farmers should know that the Federal Clean Water Act not only requires a Clean Water Act permit known as an NPDES permit for a direct discharge into a waterway, but also requires a state to designate water quality standards which protect uses of various bodies of water in a state from nonpoint sources. The water quality standards are to be determined on a scientific basis based on input from experts such as Iowa's Nutrient Science Advisors.

The EPA-administered CWA "…requires states to establish water quality standards that will protect the public health or welfare, enhance the quality of water and serve the purposes of this chapter."

EPA has stated: "adding nutrient criteria to State water quality standards is essential for Federal, State and local agencies, and the public, to better understand, identify, and manage nutrient over-enrichment problems in surface waters."

EPA and its allies such as the Iowa Environmental Council are simply targeting agriculture because EPA and environmentalists believe that in certain parts of the country, agricultural operations contribute between 30-50% of the nitrogen and phosphorus to water bodies.

Even though the petition for rule making is related to public and recreational lakes, agricultural producers can rest assured they will be blamed in part for causing the nutrient loads which in turn impact water clarity and algal biomass.

The effort by environmental groups and EPA is already under way with EPA targeting agricultural activities in the Chesapeake Bay.  I wrote about EPA's efforts on September 20, 2010, in a column entitled "EPA Targets Agriculture in the Chesapeake Bay".

I also addressed this issue on December 27, 2010, where I wrote about EPA seeking to clamp down on water runoff from Florida farms. In that column I quoted Chuck Bronson, former Florida Agricultural Commissioner, who had stated that adopting numeric water quality standards for nutrients in Florida waters would effectively shut down Florida agriculture.

His statement, possibly an overstatement, is certainly a warning for production agriculture.  Iowa farmers might want to take more than a passing interest in the petition filed on August 20, 2013. The petition could well impact Iowa farmers' future in more ways than one.

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.