Iowa lawmakers this afternoon will review a list of 300 Iowa streams the Department of Natural Resources has ruled do not deserve the highest level of environmental protection. Environmentalists argue against the move, but others say taxpayers will end up saving money that would otherwise be spent cleaning up waterways.
DNR water quality supervisor Lori McDaniel says the little stream that runs through a pasture doesn’t always deserve the same classification as the Mississippi River. "If someone’s going to have full-body contact and be swimming in there that means a little different type of protection than if you’re just going to do a little fishing and it’s not deep enough to immerse your whole body in the water," she says.
McDaniel’s agency is presenting lawmakers will a list of nearly three-hundred streams they say do not deserve the highest classification of "fishable and swimmable." That’s important, because the discharge standards for wastewater treatment facilities upstream are tougher when a stream is classified as "fishable and swimmable." Susan Heathcote of the Iowa Environmental Council says a number of small streams are commonly used by children, and deserve the higher-level of protection.
"For example (at) a campground in a rural area: what are those kids doing while mom and dad are fishing, you know, in the stream or the river? They’re probably finding a shallow area and they’re splashing around and playing," Heathcote says. "So those very small streams need to be protected in those kinds of public use areas and certainly the rural communities." Heathcote admits part of the problem is the workload.
The DNR. has been given a short period of time to assess 1,500 stream segments across the state and if children aren’t playing in the water on the day a technician visits, they may assure kids don’t play in the stream. Heathcote says the state can’t afford to get this wrong.
"To assure that people who get out and use the rivers for recreation are going do that safely and they’re not going to be, you know, subjected to unsafe levels of bacteria that could make them sick," she says. But the DNR’s Lori McDaniel says her staff is making every effort to ask local residents how their waterways are used. McDaniel says even if a river or stream is not designated for swimming, it still will be afforded new environmental protections. She says many Iowa cities and towns are facing expensive upgrades to their wastewater treatment systems to comply with new ammonia and disinfection standards.
"Sometimes I see us having to balance between economic impact and environmental concerns," she says, "and we really want to move forward in the best way we can." Lenox is southwest Iowa is one of those cities facing an upgrade. City administration Karen Zabel worries about how the town will pay for it. Many of the 1,400 residents in Lenox are elderly and Zabel says they cannot afford a big increase in their sewer bill.
"If we get to the point where all of the taxes, the cost of living and things are to high we have that fear that people may start moving, if nothing else, just to the rural areas," Zabel says. The state has set aside $4 million a year to help communities bring their water water treatment facilities into compliance, but Zabel says that won’t go far if a single upgrade costs a million dollars.
Zabel’s inclined to disagree with environmentalists who complain the streams aren’t getting enough protection. "We all want better water quality, but I think maybe some other standards aren’t really going to help us out that much," Zabel says. "I mean we are putting our water into a very small stream that’s even an unnamed stream. I think our feeling with our engineer was the cost that is going to cost a city to upgrade is not going to be that beneficial for the water quality." The legislature’s Administrative Rules Review Committee will consider these issues at its meeting this afternoon at the statehouse.