Iowa Senate Republicans ask, 'What Water Quality Problem?'

If the Feb. 25 article in The Gazette is any indication of the Iowa Senate majority’s careless attitude concerning our poor water quality, we’re in trouble.

In the article, titled “Improvements to Iowa water quality on hold at state legislature,” Sen. Ken Rozenboom, R-Oskaloosa, chairman of the Senate Natural Resources and Environment Committee, says that “his Republican colleagues have little appetite to do anything significant on water quality this session.” While it is unfortunate that they have lost their appetite to pass common-sense legislation to help Iowa’s worsening water quality, Iowans have lost their appetite over Senate Republicans’ inability to accept the facts.

According to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, there are 6,372 miles of rivers and streams in Iowa struggling with excess bacteria or other pollution. Nitrate contamination of drinking water sources is also a serious problem across our state. The costs of prevention and cleanup are in the billions. In fact, only 12 percent of Iowa’s total miles of rivers and streams, and about half the acres of lakes and reservoirs, have even been assessed due to budget constraints. But there is a funding source available to help address these challenges without taking from the state’s budget: Increase the sales tax to fund the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund.

The article goes on to say that Sen. Rozenboom says his fellow Republicans believe the maximum nitrate level set by the EPA for safe drinking water — 10 mg/L — is “unnecessarily stringent.” They’re wrong.

Nitrate levels above 10 mg/L can interfere with the ability of the blood to carry oxygen to vital tissues of the body in infants of six months old or younger. The resulting illness is called methemoglobinemia, or “blue baby syndrome.” Additionally, new research shows that long-term ingestion of elevated nitrate in drinking water is associated with a variety of serious health problems, including increased risk of bladder cancer among postmenopausal women.

In any case, water utilities around the state must meet the 10 mg/l federal standard. Iowa’s Senate Republicans don’t have to like the facts, but they need to accept reality. For the sake of their constituents’, we encourage them to follow through on legislation to help improve Iowa’s water quality and not risk making it worse by spreading misinformation.

• Mark Langgin is director of Citizens for a Healthy Iowa.

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