Iowa Commission won't set limits on lake pollution

Vote Tuesday follows petition by environmental groups

Tanner Puls takes water samples at various locations from the swimming area at Lake Macbride State Park in rural Solon,
Tanner Puls takes water samples at various locations from the swimming area at Lake Macbride State Park in rural Solon, Iowa, on Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018. Samples from multiple locations creates a composite water sample for testing. Puls also takes atmospheric measurements as well as water measurements including PH level, amount of dissolved oxygen, turbidity and temperature. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

The Iowa Environmental Protection Commission on Tuesday unanimously denied a petition asking the state to set pollution limits on Iowa lakes.

The vote in Des Moines followed a presentation by the Environmental Law and Policy Center and the Iowa Environmental Council, which jointly filed a petition for rule making. The groups argued numeric limits for water transparency, chlorophyll-a, total phosphorus and total nitrogen would better help the state protect lakes used for recreation and drinking water.

But the Iowa Department of Natural Resources recommended the commission deny the petition, saying numeric limits would result in costly changes and more federal regulation.

The Law and Policy Center also asked for numeric limits in 2013, but the commission denied the petition then as well.

Josh Mandelbaum, staff attorney for the center and a Des Moines City Council member, told The Gazette last week he requested numeric criteria again because Iowa’s water quality hasn’t improved, despite increased conservation efforts.

A 2018 Gazette investigation found Iowa, along with many other Midwestern states, can’t show progress toward reducing nitrate and phosphorus going into the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico as part of a 12-state pact to cut the nutrients by 45 percent by 2035.

The Iowa DNR says Iowa already is addressing water quality through its 2013 Nutrient Reduction Strategy, which lays out ways Iowa can slash nitrate and phosphorus runoff. The Iowa Legislature last year passed a bill providing $282 million over 12 years toward nutrient reduction goals, with $4 million available in the first year. Critics say this isn’t nearly enough money to cope with the problem.

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