The Environmental Protection Agency says more than 230 bodies of water in Iowa are “impaired.” That’s more than logged in the last EPA list, back in 2002, but John Olson, an environmental specialist with the Department of Natural Resources, says the state has expanded its water monitoring program. He says higher numbers reflect the higher monitoring, and more data checked during each cycle, so they’re likely to rank more waters as impaired.
He says it doesn’t reflect a lessening of water quality. Olson says most of Iowa’s impaired waters are rivers and streams as opposed to lakes. But he says that could be because the state does more monitoring of rivers and streams. He adds most of the impairments rank as only moderate impact, and the waterways can mostly still be used for fishing and swimming. Olson says the main cause of impaired water quality is not water-treatment plants, it’s runoff of rain from both rural and urban regions of the state.
Those are more difficult to control, he says, and the approach is voluntary, which some people think will take time to work. Meanwhile there’s no timetable set for improving Iowa’s water quality because the federal Clean Water Act doesn’t give the EPA any power to make states improve or punish those that don’t.
Larry Shepard is an environmental scientist with the EPA.
He predicts there’ll continue to be a significant problem because to correct that kind of problem takes a fairly strong “social and political commitment,” that could cost a lot of money. Shepard says if Congress mandates control of storm runoff, it could have a powerful impact on farms — so, he says, it’s not a step Congress is willing to take.