116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
This past week the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in a case involving the Clean Water Act. My congresswoman, U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson, a “recovering journalist,” reacted with misinformation.
“Washington bureaucrats who never stepped foot on a farm want to regulate puddles and streams on farmland — for them it’s about control not about legitimate clean water solutions,” Hinson tweeted, expressing hope the Supreme Court will “end federal overreaches on family farms …”
Of course, this is blatantly false. The Clean Water Act doesn’t regulate farming practices. It leaves regulation of “non-point source” pollution, such as nitrogen and phosphorus runoff from cropland, to the states. In Iowa, we’ve chosen incentives and strictly voluntary efforts to clean up water. Consequently, we don’t have clean water.
No puddle police are not coming for farmers. It’s a distortion, a lie.
What the Supreme Court case is really about is the government’s ability to protect wetlands. An Idaho couple building a home on land near Priest Lake ran afoul of the Clean Water Act because their land contains wetlands which affect water quality in the lake. Their attorney argues the government should only be able to protect wetlands with a “continuous surface connection” to “navigable waters.”
The Environmental Protection Agency argues it must protect wetlands adjacent to waterways, but not necessarily connecting. If the court sides with the couple, groups who care about water quality warn that nearly half of the nation’s wetlands and 60 percent of its streams will no longer be federally protected. They’ll be wide-open for development. That’s what Hinson supports.
Hinson’s indifference to protecting wetlands is ironic, considering she often mentions what a steadfast supporter she is of flood protection efforts in Eastern Iowa, particularly in Cedar Rapids. Although wetlands improve water quality by filtering out pollutants, they also hold water that would otherwise wash into rivers and streams. A Supreme Court ruling shrinking the EPA’s ability to protect wetlands would be a setback for flood protection across the country.
Wetlands lost to farming can only be restored voluntarily in Iowa. But urban and suburban development is a different story. Federal protection could help head off development projects that seek to disturb or put wetland areas under pavement.
There is proof wetlands work for flood protection. The Big Marsh Wildlife Management Area, a 6,100-acre restored wetland in Butler County, can hold up to 2.6 billion gallons of water. It held back enough water to lower the crest of the Cedar River during the 2016 flood, as Cedar Rapids hunkered behind its HESCO barriers watching the river rise inch by inch.
Part of Big Marsh is on land purchased by the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation using dollars from the State Revolving Loan Fund. The land was eventually turned over to the Department of Natural Resources and the loan was repaid with interest.
But in 2019, the Iowa Legislature, at the urging of farm groups, passed legislation that now prohibits entities such as the foundation from using the revolving fund to buy land for conservation purposes. Supporters of the bill said, with a straight face, that allowing the foundation or other groups to use the loan fund gives them an unfair advantage over farmers who want to buy land. This in a state that ranks 49th in the country in the amount of public land.
When the bill came to the House floor, Hinson, then a state representative, voted in favor.
So Hinson would rather protect fantasy farm puddles than wetlands. But she’s a big proponent of walls and levees. As climate change raises the prospect for more epic flooding in the future all we can hope is Congress will give us enough bucks to build those walls high enough.
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