Iowa Governor Releases Report to Control Run-Off
On November 19, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad released a nearly 200 page report calling for reductions in nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus found in fertilizer run-off from agriculture operations and wastewater treatment plants. The report, nearly two years in the making, came as a result of a 2008 EPA directive called the Hypoxia Action Plan which outlined a strategy for 12 states in the Mississippi River watershed to reduce discharges of nutrients that contributed to the "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico - an oxygen deprived area that causes algae blooms and fish kills.
Earlier versions of the report were criticized by environmental groups because of a lack of input from the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The agency now backs the draft report issued last week by the Governor after changes were made to assuage staff concerns and the public has until January 4 to offer comment. Regardless, criticism still remains from community and environmental organizations because they believe the strategy relies too heavily on voluntary nutrient control measures and is favorably skewed towards agri-business interests without enough oversight by the public. Ralph Rosenberg, executive director of the Iowa Environmental Council, issued the following statement on the nutrient management plan: "The authors of this Strategy took more than two years to complete it, yet members of the public will be provided 45 days—during the hectic holiday season—to comment on the document. To review what has been presented as a ‘comprehensive and integrated approach’ taking on Iowa’s most widespread and complex water pollution problem, this period of time is not enough.
In a statement released by the Governor, “This strategy keeps us at the forefront of using voluntary, science-based practices to improve water quality in our state, and is an important step forward.” Under the plan, the DNR will be directed to work with point sources, like major wastewater treatment facilities, throughout the state to reduce total phosphorus discharges by 16 percent and total discharges of nitrogen by 4 percent. Roughly 130 such facilities will be impacted and removing nutrients from wastewater plants could cost taxpayers and businesses $1.5 billion, but reduce the amount of nitrogen discharged annually by more than 11,000 tons. Reducing run-off discharges from farms could prove even more expensive based on the report's estimates as Iowa is home to more than 90,000 farmers. Upfront for expenses for implementation range from $1.2 billion to $4 billion and nutrient reduction projects could cost between $77 million and $1 billion per year.