A n April report on Iowa’s water quality is alarming for farmers and residents.
The report ought to serve as a clarion call for action because it concludes that inadequate funding and commitment to protecting the resource has caused the state to backslide.
The publication, authored by the Iowa Policy Project, finds that bacteria and nitrogen levels in private wells have increased for a decade. Iowa, with an estimated 480 impaired streams and lakes, is aware something must be done.
Iowa lawmakers and Gov. Terry Branstad took an initial step to protect water quality through the state’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy in 2013.
It’s not as though Iowa hasn’t spent money protecting its water. The state committed $43 million to the effort in 2018 and the federal and state commitment to environmental protection reached $512 million in the fiscal year. Most of the federal contribution was committed to the Conservation Reserve Program, which is perhaps the nation’s most popular environmental effort.
“When you compare that to what the state is spending you really see how little commitment we really have,’’ Iowa Policy Project co-founder David Osterberg told the Associated Press.
Osterberg has an obvious bone to pick, but he isn’t entirely wrong. Iowa does need to be more aggressive in its approach.
The same could be said for other states, including Minnesota, that have impaired waters.
Minnesota, under the direction of former Gov. Mark Dayton, established its buffer law in 2017. The law requires perennial vegetation buffers of up to 50 feet along lakes, rivers and streams and 16.5-foot buffers along ditches. The vegetation may filter out most of the phosphorus, nitrogen and sediment that harm lakes and streams.
Iowa can start to do more by testing more private wells in the state. The Environmental Working Group and the Iowa Environmental Council issued a report that found that there are 290,000 private wells in the state and only 55,000 have been tested for nitrates. Nearly 50 percent of those tested had detectible levels of nitrates and 43 percent had coliform bacteria.
Iowa lawmakers — who as a group have been branded ‘’do-nothings’’ for their approach to water quality initiatives — must go beyond the voluntary nutrition strategy that it established in Branstad’s administration.
Iowa contributes far too much to the total nitrates found in the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. More aggressive approaches to protecting water resources are needed.
The April report’s alarm should reach lawmakers’ ears. Iowa citizens have overwhelmingly and repeatedly voted to support water quality initiatives. The time for action is now. Iowa’s future depends on a comprehensive effort to protect its streams, lakes and private water wells.