Our dirty secret



The fullness of the battle over water quality in Iowa is becoming apparent. It was from a little-noticed story in 2017 about attempts to zero out funding in the legislature for the Iowa Flood Center, as reported by the Cedar Rapids Gazette. Interests in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, including the Des Moines Water Works, were instrumental in clawing back some of the funding for the flood center. What the Gazette did not report is that the ag chemical lobby also tried to eliminate funding for water quality monitoring statewide, according to DMWW Chief Executive Officer Bill Stowe, who told us about it on Monday after we inquired about the flood center.

Stowe added that in 2016 then-Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey suggested that water quality funding would be better used on conservation projects in-field than on stream monitoring. The same suggestion was made during the last session of the legislature.

To be clear: They want to eliminate water-quality monitoring in Iowa, and the effort continues quietly. The best cure is to elect a different governor who is not a tool of the malefactors.

The reason for the fear is that the monitors keep coughing up the wrong results. Our streams are foul with nitrate and phosphorous well over recommended federal or more stringent state guidelines, from the University of Iowa College of Public Health. Stowe has been providing us with the data for years on the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers. Attempts to frustrate that collection will not succeed. Stowe himself will be out there in waders if he has to, not to mention the legions of volunteers in the Raccoon River Watershed Association. We can be assured at least of that. But what of the other rivers in Iowa?

How can we know what is in the water if we do not monitor it?

Some interests would rather you didn’t know.

We were not aware until Monday how relentless this campaign is.

They eliminated the Leopold Center for Sustainable Ag at Iowa State University. They eliminated the job of the confined animal feeding coordinator at the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. They eliminated the state geologist position. They tried to eliminate the Iowa Flood Center. They tried to eliminate the Des Moines Water Works. They ran $940,000 worth of TV ads trying to defame Stowe. They have academics running scared.

The state legislature last session doled out $225 million in a wasteful water quality paean to the midterm election campaign. Yet from all that largesse it is suggested that there is not enough to maintain a stream gauge on the Shell Rock River. It is preposterous and dishonest.

“It’s very clear to a number of us that they want to eliminate monitoring,” Stowe told us.

He looked at a datasource that showed the Raccoon and Floyd Rivers on Monday running well above recommended limits. The secret already is out: Increased drainage and soil erosion is leading to a nitrate and phosphorous dump into our state’s streams and lakes. It is creating a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico that is destroying the fishing industry. It is creating deadly toxins in Saylorville Lake. At least 80% of it is due to conventional agriculture.

So why try to hide it now?

Because it is getting worse with climate change, and the remedial efforts are puny and ineffective. If you monitor, you will have data proving that a rain garden will not save the Raccoon River from us. You would question whether $225 million is worth it when nothing improves. You would wonder why we flout the Clean Water Act. And that is how this is shaking out. The ag chemical industry is deathly afraid because the polls say the public is fed up with polluted water. They are under assault in Ohio, where Lake Erie turns algae-green from manure runoff annually. There, Gov. John Kasich recently allowed that an impaired water designation was in order for Erie. If Ohio falls, can Iowa be far behind? The seed and chemical industry will not allow this domino to go down without a fight. They are trying to knock down every last obstacle until we don’t know if our rivers run free. And when we don’t know, our own freedom is in peril.