Storm Lake Times Pilot

Editorial: A water disconnect

Iowans, especially Storm Lakers, pay keen attention to water quality. When dead fish started to wash ashore last week, locals immediately started to contact us via email and text and spread social media alerts. People wanted immediate answers. A swimmer just died from a brain-eating amoeba in an Iowa lake, nearly every state beach is posted with bacteria warnings, and the stench of vegetative overgrowth and blue-green algae last year is fresh in the nostrils.

Fortunately, Iowa Department of Natural Resources Fisheries biologist Ben Wallace from Lake View was immediately on the case. Preliminary reports are that mainly carp, and just a few catfish and bass, were among the dead. Testing will be conducted, but it is believed that this is the result of a disease specifically affecting carp. It could be Nature’s way of rebalancing the lake ecosystem.

In this case, no apparent cause for alarm but for vigilance. On that front, you need not worry. When foam flows out of a storm sewer, city hall’s phone lines burn up.

People are worked up about water, as well they should be.

Storm Lake is under water conservation orders amid a drought and failing wells. People are just starting to learn about “forever chemicals” in their drinking water. The reports about omnipresent microplastics in the supposedly pristine Boundary Waters Canoe Area are shocking. The Raccoon River is listed among America’s most endangered — and if the Raccoon is, then so are the Little Sioux and Des Moines and Cedar and Rock and …

Iowans are paying attention.

All the polling through the years tells us that water quality is an urgent concern. Actual votes back it up. Here, voters overwhelmingly supported lake restoration in a bond election. In 2010, 63% of voters approved a state constitutional amendment dedicating a sales tax funding stream to a permanent fund for water quality and outdoor recreation. (That was the same year voters also ousted three Iowa Supreme Court justices for approving gay marriage, so the contrast is remarkable.) More than 60% of Iowans agreed with the Des Moines Water Works position that it should not have to pay for chronic pollution of the Raccoon River.

Just last year, Iowa State University’s Farm and Rural Life Poll showed 60% of rural residents surveyed said funds should be appropriated to that voter-approved account embedded in the Constitution.

Still, the legislature has refused to appropriate a penny to that account, ignoring the direct will of the voters. It’s a strange disconnect. Water quality is high on our radar but the majority Republicans controlling the Statehouse agenda apparently could not care less.

The list of impaired waters grows. Iowa has among the most-polluted surface water in America. Stream bank erosion is getting worse with improved drainage systems moving torrents of water to the rivers during extreme rains. We have more manure than we can handle, we are locating cattle next to a trout stream, and we are sucking the Dakota aquifer down. We apply anhydrous ammonia on top of hog manure. People are aware of all of this. They have asked for action. What do we get? A closed DNR office in Storm Lake that used to house a water quality specialist. We are not testing every water system for “forever chemicals” because when we do, we find them as we have in Sioux Rapids and Spencer.

Voters are concerned about inflation, of course. Rural voters are concerned about community vitality and education. They also are aware that their water might kill them, and when given an opportunity to vote directly on that issue will take clean water every time.

The dead carp may be a net benefit to Storm Lake, we don’t know. We’re glad that Wallace is on the scene. The local reaction was swift and telling. We do know that folks around here are as interested in that lake as anything, and the political system should take that into account. Politicians have been getting away with ignoring the voters for 12 years. Given the depth of concern just over this lake, one would think that the state would respond with a clean water and healthy lakes plan. It’s hard to understand why we let Iowa fall so short when the public demands better.

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