The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Opinion

August 13, 2013

Iowa's water quality disconnect

The Iowa State Fair is now in full swing. This is a grand showcase for livestock, produce and farm machinery, and it is the closest most people will get to the industry that produces the annual bounty for which Iowa is famous around the world.

Iowans, however, may have a hard time squaring this wholesome image with growing evidence of the environmental consequences of large-scale agriculture.

It is time to end this disconnect between the nostalgic view of agriculture and the reality of 21st-century farming in the Midwest.

Iowa agricultural interests should work just as hard the rest of the year after the fair ends to demonstrate their dedication to clean water and soil conservation. Unfortunately, just the opposite is happening.

Exhibit A: Closed-door meetings earlier this month with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency hosted by Gov. Terry Branstad to discuss the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ strategy for getting this state into compliance with federal clean water standards. Also at the table were representatives of the Iowa Farm Bureau and agriculture groups representing pork, cattle, chicken and turkey producers.

Staff members for the governor’s office and the EPA dismissed objections by Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement that the very businesses responsible for Iowa’s water problems were allowed to participate in the meetings, while environmental groups were not.

The excuse was that affected “stakeholders” are consulted when new regulations are written. But, as the Sierra Club points out, the EPA rules are already in place, and Iowa is not in compliance with them. The only question now is what Iowa intends to do about that.

It seems obvious the affected “stakeholders” in these discussions should, at the very least, include the groups that originally forced the EPA to crack down on Iowa, including CCI and the Sierra Club. And what about the people of Iowa? After all, they must tolerate rivers and lakes fouled with manure and fecal bacteria. They were not invited to the meetings, either, while the businesses the state has failed to properly regulate were given a seat at the table.

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