Guest Columnist

On Earth Day, we're reminded that clean water is a human right

Iowa needs a moratorium on factory farm construction permits

Wetlands on a property near Fayette on Thursday, April 18, 2019. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Wetlands on a property near Fayette on Thursday, April 18, 2019. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

COVID-19 has shown us that even in a global health pandemic, the factory farm industry will continue to exploit our public health and our environment, all to make a buck. For me, this crisis confirms the stranglehold that this industry has on our elected officials, and what we need to do about it.

The story of state decision-makers carrying water for the factory farm industry, at the expense of our public health and our environment is one my community and I know well. When three massive factory farms were approved upstream from West Indian Creek, which runs through my backyard in Story County, I helped organize over 200 people who went to the county Board of Supervisors to protect our community.

I was worried about how massive amounts of waste from these factory farms would be dumped untreated onto land surrounding our community polluting our water and our public health.

The land that this waste is dumped on in my community has flooded before and will flood again. When it does, the untreated waste will overflow in the creek in my backyard, the surrounding recreational trails and even the soccer field where my three boys play.

While we had these facts about the negative impacts of factory farms on our side, ultimately, these three factory farms were approved by the state despite overwhelming public opposition. It became clear that our state’s decision-makers lacked the political will to stand with everyday Iowans and against this corporate controlled industry.

We see that happening again, now, during the COVID-19 crisis as Gov. Kim Reynolds and leadership at the DNR have rolled back nearly all environmental regulations allowing factory farms to cram extra livestock into confinements and removing any penalties for environmental violations.

As Iowans practice necessary physical distancing to flatten the curve, the DNR continues to rubber stamp factory farm applications, without any effective process for community input.

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Factory farms put rural communities and vulnerable populations such as older adults and individuals with autoimmune disorders already at greater risk for COVID-19, at even more risk. Communities with factory farms experience higher rates of asthma, COPD, and many cancers.

Factory Farms also degrade Iowa’s water. Over 90 percent of the nitrates and 75 percent of the phosphorus in Iowa’s water comes from industrial agriculture practices and factory farms.

On Earth Day, we should be reminded that clean water is a basic human right, and especially important to maintaining health in these times.

While my community’s factory farm fight showed me how the factory farm industry exploits our communities and how the Governor and legislators from both parties carry water for this industry.

I also learned that it is everyday Iowans, across party lines, who have the solutions.

We all want the same things: we want to protect our communities, our health and our right to clean water. We want and we need a better and more resilient food and farm system, one that works for farmers, workers, eaters and the environment. And, we know the first step toward this better food and farm system is a “timeout” for factory farms.

Iowa has over 10,000 factory farms that contribute to the over 760 impaired waterways in the state. We don’t need anymore; we need a moratorium on all new or expanding factory farm construction permits and we can’t wait until the next legislative session to get it. That’s why Iowa CCI is demanding that Gov. Reynolds institute an immediate 6-month moratorium on factory farms in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kim Stephens lives a member of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement from Nevada, Iowa.

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