The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) recently released its draft triennial review work plan. The federal Clean Water Act requires states to review their water quality standards at least once every three years to seek public input and evaluate what changes are needed. The work plan sets out the DNR’s priorities for water quality standards development over the next three years. The plan then undergoes required public hearings to gain input on the DNR’s plan. According to the DNR, the triennial review is “designed to be a tool for the public to have an active role in the state’s water quality standards program.”
Nutrient pollution (excess nitrogen and phosphorus) is the state’s most severe water quality problem, but, surprisingly, (or not surprisingly given the state’s stance on addressing nutrient pollution over the last decade), the DNR did not include nutrient pollution among its planned water quality standard work over the next three years. Currently, Iowa has narrative criteria for nutrients, which are inherently subjective and difficult to measure. For example, a lake cannot have “nuisance aquatic life” like algae, but how much is too much? There is nothing objective to measure against.
With numeric nutrient criteria (NNC), DNR would establish numerical nitrogen and phosphorus limits for specific water bodies. Everyone could see how each waterbody compares to the standard. Last week, IEC and partner Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC) submitted written comments asking for DNR to include NNC in the triennial review work plan.
This is not the first time IEC has asked DNR to include numeric nutrient criteria in its triennial review. IEC and other groups have been calling for the DNR to adopt NNC, particularly in Iowa lakes, for years. IEC and ELPC have twice petitioned the Environmental Protection Commission (EPC), a citizen board that oversees DNR, to direct DNR to begin developing numeric nutrient criteria. The EPC denied both petitions based on the DNR’s argument that the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy (NRS) exists and should be given more time to work.