News Feature | February 1, 2018

Water Utilities Unimpressed With Iowa Water Bill

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome
@sarmje

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A water quality bill passed the legislature last week in Iowa, where nitrate pollution from farms has been a persistent issue for water utilities in recent years.

“Iowa lawmakers agreed to send a voluntary water quality bill to Governor Kim Reynolds that doesn't require comprehensive statewide monitoring of water pollution and excludes benchmark improvement goals, a point some environmental groups argue will lessen its impact,” the Associated Press reported.

“The Republican-controlled House voted 59-41 for the legislation after floor debate took less than an hour. It passed in the GOP-majority Senate last session, remaining alive because of the two-year legislative calendar,” the report said.

Iowa lawmakers have fought for years over how to improve water quality in the second-ranked farm-producing state in the country.

The legislation would create a Water Quality Financial Assistance fund to pay for water utility projects, The Des Moines Register reported.

“Priority will be given to disadvantaged communities for the installation or upgrade of wastewater treatment facilities, as well as those that use technology to address the latest version of the Nutrient Reduction Strategy,” the report said.

But the $282 million bill may not provide much relief to water utilities in the state. For Des Moines Water Works CEO Bill Stowe “and many environmental groups, the bill is a drop-in-the-bucket distraction,” The Des Moines Register reported.

"I think it’s a diversion away from the core issue of addressing water quality meaningfully," Stowe said, per The Register. "It’s taking public money and sprinkling it across the state without any real requirements for results. So, no, we see nothing favorable in the legislation. Nothing at all."

The backdrop is that Stowe’s water utility had sought a tougher solution for water quality issues in the courts and lost.

Des Moines Water Works had sued agricultural drainage districts in hopes of compelling them to shoulder more of the burden for nutrient removal. The case was dismissed.

“Federal Judge Leonard Strand dismissed all of Water Works' claims against drainage districts in Sac, Buena Vista, and Calhoun counties, determining that Iowa's water quality problems are an issue for the Iowa legislature to resolve,” The Des Moines Register reported last March.

Image credit: "Valley View," Nicholas Tonnelli © 2012, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/