A key lawmaker says the state must find more money to help cities facing expensive upgrades to their wastewater treatment systems. The upgrades are necessary to comply with new federal water quality standards. Last year, the Iowa Legislature set aside four million dollars to help cities with the cost of new wastewater treatment equipment, but Senator Mike Connolly, a Democrat from Dubuque, says that’s "woefully inadequate."
"It’s estimated to be a billion dollar problem out there for the cities and, you know, we’ve got 900-and-some cities," Connolly says. "Some of them have upgraded their systems already…and now they feel they’re changing the rules in the middle of the stream, no pun intended." Representative Linda Upmeyer, a Republican from Garner, is hoping cities can be given more time to comply with the new standards.
"I don’t mean to minimize the environmental issue in any way, but you know we didn’t get here overnight so I would suspect that if we take the time to do this in a very well-thought-out manner, I doubt that that’s going to tip us over the edge either." The Department of Natural Resources is in the process of analyzing rivers and streams in Iowa and plans to downgrade nearly three-hundred streams below the federal government’s "fishable and swimmable" designation.
That means the standards for wastewater that may flow into those streams wouldn’t be as strict, perhaps saving some small towns some taxdollars that would be spent upgrading wastewater treatment equipment. The Iowa Legislature’s Administrative Rules Review Committee must approve those changes and Senator Connolly, the committee’s chairman, says he’ll support the changes. "DNR’s trying to strike a balance and I think they’re doing a good job so far," Connolly says.