In our final Iowa Water Watch newsletter of 2022, we reflect on the Iowa Environmental Council’s water and land work over the past year. There is a lot to be proud of, a lot to learn from, and many opportunities to look forward to.
Highlights include our effort to improve rules governing the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) regulation of animal feeding operations (AFOs). One lesson our team has learned over the past few years is that current rules do not protect our most sensitive landscapes from manure produced by industrial livestock facilities. We faced this as we worked on multiple strategies and arguments to stop the approval of the Supreme Beef LLC facility in northeast Iowa. The rules are too permissive if they cannot stop an 11,600 head of cattle facility from being sited on karst in the watershed of an Outstanding Iowa Water. So we set out to change the rules.
Over the past year and a half, IEC has petitioned twice for changes to AFO rules. We asked the Iowa DNR to strengthen restrictions on AFO siting in karst landscapes (porous bedrock that easily allows groundwater pollution), near drinking water sources, and in floodplains. This fall, DNR released proposed updates to the state’s AFO rules. The proposed changes make some improvements, including addressing some of the issues we raised in our petitions. However, the changes are not protective enough. Together with a broad coalition, we submitted comments and suggested changes on the proposed revisions in October. The process to update the rules will take more time, but we are encouraged this comprehensive rule review was initiated. We do not believe DNR would have addressed siting in karst or the floodplain without our earlier petitions. We have cracked the door open to making improvements; now it is just a matter of how much wider we can push it.
We also shined a light on the weaknesses of Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy and the associated water quality monitoring. We published reports on these topics and presented them to representatives from Iowa DNR, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Iowa State University, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. We continue to push to see progress on fertilizer pollution reduction in our waterways. With the 10-year anniversary of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy next year, you can expect to see more on this topic in the future.
The Iowa Water Watch program and our summer Weekly Water Watch series have again provided valuable opportunities to talk about recreational water quality and share voices of folks that are working to protect water and land in Iowa. Iowans care about water they can swim and boat in, and want to get outside and enjoy nature. We have ramped up Iowa Water Watch over the past year, hosting events in Storm Lake and North Liberty, presenting educational webinars, publishing a Lake Red Rock storymap, and featuring blog pieces from thirteen guest authors. As we continue to build out the program, we see more Iowans taking action and adding their voices for clean water.
I am proud of the work IEC, and particularly our Clean Water & Land Stewardship program, has done this year in a tough policy environment. It is through conversation and outreach, building a community of supporters to speak up, that we can have success. We continue to share our expertise while learning from others as we work together to build the future we want to see in Iowa. Thank you for being part of our clean water community. We look forward to continuing the fight with you in 2023.