Stricter Water Quality Standards Tentatively Approved

Stricter Water Quality Standards Tentatively Approved

Iowa Department of Natural Resources to hold hearings beginning Feb. 22 to gather public input; then will develop final rules and submit to Environmental Protection Commission for approval later this year.

The Iowa Environmental Protection Commission in January tentatively approved a plan to impose stricter water quality standards in nearly 160 lakes in the state. The standards which the Iowa Department of Natural Resources designed to protect swimmers, could impose restrictions on farms and other economic activity around the lakes as a way to improve water clarity.

DNR will hold hearings at several Iowa locations starting Feb. 22 and gather public comments before DNR develops final rules and presents them to the EPC later this year. DNR had originally planned to end the comment period in March but was instructed by EPC to accept public comments through April.

Water clarity data is said to be lacking, which draws criticism

Chris Gruenhagen, government relations counsel for Iowa Farm Bureau, says lake water clarity data developed by DNR has insufficient accuracy to set regulatory standards and would impose economic burdens on Iowa's communities. A study to determine water-sampling accuracy indicates more water samples are needed to accurately represent annual water quality and achieve even a 50% margin of error." The EPC's recommendation has resulted in a rule-making that is unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious," she says.

EPC commissioner Dave Petty, a Hardin County cattleman and farmer, questioned whether DNR has developed strict lake-water quality criteria specifically to add more lakes to the list in the future. "I'm all for clean water but does it make sense to have criteria that we can't ever meet?" he asks. DNR officials indicate 75% of the lakes on the list would likely be considered impaired under the proposed standards.

Water quality standards still haven't had final EPC approval

Gruenhagen requested that EPC commissioner Susan Heathcote abstain from voting on the rules for lake water quality standards because Heathcote is employed by the Iowa Environmental Council. Heathcote's employer has come out strongly for using strict numeric nutrient criteria to develop water quality standards. Heathcote voted in favor of the rules.

DNR environmental specialist John Olson told the EPC that the number of impaired water bodies in Iowa rose in 2010, but not because pollution is worse in the state. Instead, he says the list is "much less a reflection of a shift in water quality in Iowa and more a shift in standards and testing."

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