A federal court is siding with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and against environmental groups in a case that aimed to hasten water clean-up efforts.

The Gulf Restoration Network and groups from Mississippi River watershed states argued the EPA needs to enforce more specific water quality standards.

On appeal, a U.S. District Court ruled the Clean Water Act leaves that authority to the states.

Susan Heathcote, water program director for the Iowa Environmental Council, says cleaning up Iowa’s lakes and rivers is “the toughest problem we’ve ever tackled.”

She says it’s going to take considerable public dollars and cooperation from both rural and urban Iowans.

“This is a long-term investment that we have to make and it’s really an investment that we have to make for our children and our grandchildren because the nutrient levels are not going to go down overnight,” Heathcote says. “They didn’t come up overnight and they’re not going to go down overnight.”

Heathcote says the court ruling puts more pressure on local efforts. Heathcote says, “We know that increased leadership from EPA to enforce the Clean Water Act is probably less likely with the upcoming Trump administration, so we are looking at all of our options including new litigation.”

She says the EPA has already settled a suit with the state of Missouri, agreeing to enforce standards for water quality in lakes there.

Heathcote says now the challenge is to fund the needed landscape changes, like more conservation practices on farmland. She’s hopeful environmental, agricultural and public health groups can work together to pressure the legislature to fund more water quality projects.

(Thanks to Amy Mayer, Iowa Public Radio)