Journal Express, Knoxville, IA

September 6, 2013

Another View - Worse Water - Where’s Our Governor?

Charlotte Shivvers

Knoxville — I wrote last time about our area being such a popular place to visit – RAGBRAI®, the races, historic sites, lake and rivers, and on and on.  Yes, it’s great to see the bright side, but it’s vital to see the gaping holes in that bright view, too. And here’s a biggie – again – water quality.

We cannot keep attracting visitors here if our water continues to get worse. My grandchildren were disappointed last year when their parents read the signs above the Red Rock beach and ordered,  “No swimming here, kids.”  I was sad last week when I read our latest water test results (State Hygienic Laboratory, University of Iowa, $26):  water in our newest well is still on the edge of nitrate safety.  Not deemed safe for pregnant women.  

So it was good news that Gov. Branstad was meeting with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to discuss the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) plan for getting Iowa into compliance with federal Clean Water standards.   It’s been federal law since 1972 – about time we complied.  The bad news is that it seems to have been a closed-door meeting with invited representatives present largely from the groups responsible for Iowa’s major water pollution:  the Iowa Farm Bureau and the groups representing pork, cattle, chicken and turkey producers.  Absent were representatives for WE THE PEOPLE.  We’re the ones who can’t safely drink the water – we need to buy it in plastic bottles or pay for special cleansing measures such as Des Moines Water Works uses at a cost to customers of $7,000 a day.  And we can’t safely swim, fish, or splash in much of our water.  We would like Iowa to follow the Clean Water law.

We the people are best represented here by the Sierra Club, the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, and the Environmental Integrity Project.  Those three started back in 2007 to get the federal Environmental Protection Agency at work on Iowa’s non-compliance with the federal Clean Water Act.  These groups, according to the “Iowa Sierran” (8-13), used the Freedom of Information Act to find documents which “clearly show that one of the Branstad Administration’s top priorities is to shield a polluting industry from strong and effective public oversight by undermining what could be one of the most significant reforms in years to begin cracking down on factory farm pollution and cleaning up Iowa’s 628 polluted rivers, lakes, and streams.”   

Branstad has been working on the inside to violate the Clean Water Act by delaying a much-needed agreement to fix Iowa’s failed factory farm pollution program.  This should not surprise us.  Remember?  I had to look back to find it, but my day at the Iowa Capitol in January brought a shocking revelation:  Branstad’s  appointed Environmental Protection Commission consists mostly of people “so intricately connected to factory farms and other polluting industries that in a court hearing they would have been required to ‘recuse’ or excuse themselves.”  (“The Fox Guards the Chickens” 1-25-13)   

In fact, the “Register’s Editorial” (8-11-13) says, “agricultural groups convey the impression that farmers are immune to the rules that apply to everybody else.” Perhaps it’s good news that the EPA could revoke Iowa’s enforcement authority here – since it’s not working – and the federal EPA would become our water quality manager.

So, if we don’t want federal control, we should wake up and follow the law – the Clean Water Act.  And get our governor working to enforce that law.  We might get even more paying guests.