Groups Seek Better Standards for Iowa Lakes
Groups Seek Better Standards for Iowa Lakes
Manny Gonzales - Des Moines, Iowa

Last month, the Environmental Law & Policy Center and the Iowa Environmental Council filed a petition pushing the state of Iowa to adopt new standards for water clarity, nitrogen and phosphorus at the state’s 159 public lakes.

The current standards fail to do enough to keep Iowa’s lakes clean, Ralph Rosenberg, the environmental council director, told the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission at a recent public meeting. The commission is expected to decide whether to take action at another public meeting on Oct. 14in Windsor Heights.

“We lose millions of dollars that could be spent on recreation that’s being spent to swim or boat or fish in Minnesota or South Dakota,” Rosenberg said, pointing to a state study that shows Iowa lakes attract $1.2 billion in spending annually and support 14,000 jobs.

Rosenberg read from dozens of comments that the coalition turned over to the commission. One involved a triathlete who’s unable to train in north Iowa lakes in July without getting a rash. “I would be delighted if I could find just one Iowa lake with clear water where I could see my hand when swimming,” the triathlete’s written comment stated.

The lake at Rock Creek State Park near Kellogg is so polluted and stinky that it turns families away who might otherwise be looking for a body of water to recreate in. “The kids started calling it Stink Creek,” Rosenberg said.

Jane Shuttleworth told a state environmental board that residents around Lake Okoboji, with thousands of visitors each year, understand the economic need for clean lakes.

“But it’s not just the Iowa Great Lakes, it’s all across Iowa,” said Shuttleworth, one of about a dozen environmental leaders and residents who attended the meeting commission meeting in Mason City. “Our lakes are jewels. They are engines of economic development. They make our young people want to live here.”

Linda Kinman, public policy analyst for Des Moines Water Works, urged the commission to adopt the proposed science-based standards, developed by a group of Iowa experts in 2008, to better protect the state’s lakes from farm and other sources of runoff.

Kinman said Des Moines Water Works provides water to 500,000 central Iowa residents from water sources that include the Des Moines and Raccoon rivers, both of which are impaired.

The group has struggled to this summer to remove nitrogen to keep drinking water below federal EPA standards. Leaders have said the process costs about $7,000 a day.

Kinman said the state’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy doesn’t go far enough. That plan lays out cropping practices and conservation techniques farmers can use to cut runoff, but it doesn’t require action. It also sets up permit requirements that force changes at sewage plants to cut nitrogen and phosphorus in discharges to streams.

“Some have wanted to wait for the Nutrient Reduction Strategy to be implemented. However, the strategy does not address setting numeric standards, doesn’t require measurable outcomes or set timelines for reducing nutrients in Iowa’s rivers, streams and lakes,” she said. “There’s no reason not to move” on adopting the new rules, she said.



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