September 2, 2014

Group supports EPA proposal for expanded regulation of waterways

A group that works to fight pollution in the state is touting the support of small businesses and farmers for an Environmental Protection Agency proposal to give the federal government regulatory authority over more waterways, including about 2 million miles of streams.

Michelle Hesterberg, with Environment Iowa, says the move would close loopholes in the Clean Water Act that currently leave 62% of Iowa’s streams at-risk of unchecked pollution. “Nobody should be allowed to treat our waterways like their own personal sewer,” Hesterberg said in a conference call Thursday with reporters. “These are the same streams that feed into our major waterways like the Des Moines, Missouri, Mississippi, Cedar, and Iowa Rivers and (provide) the drinking water for 667,000 Iowans.”

Environment Iowa released a letter this week to the EPA, expressing support for the proposal, that’s signed by 300 small business owners. In another letter produced this past fall, 300 farmers joined the group’s call for the restoration of the Clean Water Act provisions. Francis Thicke, a dairy farmer in Fairfield, took part in Thursday’s conference call and said current strategies to keep waterways clean aren’t working. “We have this voluntary nutrient management plan in Iowa…which I am very skeptical of. I do not think we can do this on a voluntary basis. We haven’t done it for 30 years,” Thicke said. “And it’s going to cost farmers money to do these practices that will improve water quality.”

Mike Draper, who owns the retail business RAYGUN, also participated in the Environment Iowa teleconference. Earlier this week, Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, a Republican, accused the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of overstepping her authority by issuing the proposal. Critics of the plan, including officials with the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, claim tighter federal regulation of waterways will ultimately hurt farmers and the ag industry.

Grassley said he’s concerned farm ponds, drainage ditches, culverts, dams and dry creek beds could soon fall under the EPA.