DES MOINES (AP) — Gov. Terry Branstad launched a new state website Monday to encourage efforts in reducing water pollution in Iowa.
The website, which cost about $24,000 to build, will provide information to residents around the state as part of a wide-ranging approach to improving water quality, Branstad said at a press conference at the State Capitol.
“Today's announcement will help both rural and urban landowners by providing a website with conservation resources and best practices,” Branstad said. “This will assist in the effort to reduce nitrate and phosphate runoff into our rivers, lakes and streams.”
Iowa recently struck a deal with federal authorities to inspect more livestock farms and strictly enforce penalties when manure leaks into rivers or streams. That came after a lengthy dispute over enforcing the U.S. Clean Water Act.
Environmental groups note that 479 lakes, rivers and streams in the state are listed as impaired by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Iowa — the nation's leading pork producer — typically has about 20 million hogs. A farm with 2,500 hogs generates about 1.2 million gallons of manure a year, most of which is spread onto farm fields as fertilizer. But those fields can hold only so much manure, and heavy rain tends to wash more of it into rivers and streams.
David Goodner, a farm and environment organizer with Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, was critical of the new site and the state's water efforts, saying they rely too heavily on voluntary compliance.
“We have a website that is touting a very flawed approach,” Goodner said. “Voluntary compliance doesn't work. We need strong and effective oversight.”
A wet spring this year caused some rivers in central Iowa to record their highest nitrate levels, blamed on manure and other fertilizers.
Pollution levels in the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers forced the Des Moines Water Works, which serves about 500,000 residents, to use a nitrate removal facility to treat drinking water for several months. In early July, the utility asked customers reduce water use after officials determined that demand would outpace the ability to treat the water. That request was lifted after several weeks.
Gary Benjamin, the utility's assistant general manager, said Monday that running the nitrate removal facility cost about $722,000, and the utility lost about $186,000 in revenue because one suburban city bought less water than expected. Those costs will be passed on to ratepayers.
Branstad said Monday that the wet weather was the reason for the polluted water and that the state can't protect against those conditions.
“We had an extraordinarily wet spring, a lot of flooding and we had some issues with nitrates,” Branstad said. “When you have these severe situations and excess rain, especially in the springtime before the crops are growing, you're going to have these types of problems.”
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