Hopes for Statehose water quality push look bleak

Standing water in a wetland is shown at Squaw Creek Park in Marion on Friday, Sept. 9, 2016. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
Standing water in a wetland is shown at Squaw Creek Park in Marion on Friday, Sept. 9, 2016. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

Our Iowa Legislature has a problems problem.

For example, widespread voter fraud isn’t a real problem. And yet, the Republican majority is pursuing major legislation to address the non-problem. Which may cause problems.

When the state’s public employee collective bargaining law needed some smart, careful adjustments, Republicans reached into their problem-solving toolbox and pulled out a sledgehammer.

Think abortions are a problem? Let’s defund organizations that provide low-cost contraception. Think local minimum wage laws are a problem? Let’s craft a heavy-handed bill that defends housing discrimination and plastic grocery bags. Also, ignore the problem that sparked local action.

As for real problems, such as the state’s lousy water quality, we get a shrug. Problem? What problem?

Well, this summer, there will be an oxygen-depleted dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico the size of Connecticut, or larger. It’s caused in no small part by fertilizer runoff from Midwest farms. We’ve pledged to do something about it, but we’re in no hurry.

That same nitrate and phosphorus-laden runoff also causes costly headaches for some Iowa drinking water utilities, and fouls lakes with summer algae blooms, to name just a couple of issues. That runoff also carries away our fertile soil and feeds damaging floods. More frequent heavy precipitation events are making things worse.

Seems like a really big problem.

Not at the Statehouse. The Gazette’s Orlan Love provided an excellent assessment on Sunday of the bleak legislative water quality landscape. Key lawmakers are frustrated or indifferent. Bills are on the back burner.


Action addressing gaping loopholes in livestock confinement rules is not happening. Federal environmental agencies now are commanded by Trumpian slashers and burners. Help is not on the way.

The Des Moines Water Works, which sued three rural counties over runoff and sparked a real water quality debate in this state, is on the ropes. A bill dismantling the water works and handing its management to a regional authority is likely to pass. The lawsuit may soon disappear, along with the pressure on rural lawmakers and their farm allies to do something. It’s political payback, pure and simple. Instead of addressing the problem, Republicans would much rather punish the messenger.

The nothing-to-see-here crowd is winning.

Love quotes Sen. Ken Rozenboom, R-Oskaloosa, chairman of the Senate Natural Resources and Environment Committee, who says the actual problem is that our drinking water nitrate standard is too tough. Last month, Rozenboom told a forum audience Iowa has a “limited” water problem. Run that estimate by folks along the gulf coast, where the dead zone costs seafood and tourism industries $82 million annually.

Previously in this space, you read how Sen. Dan Zumbach, R-Ryan, chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, insists some Iowa waterways are classified as impaired because they are “too clean.” That’s as true as claiming water quality is a legislative priority.

l Comments: (319) 398-8452; todd.dorman@thegazette.com



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