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Environmental Groups Pressure EPA to Help Improve Water Quality

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo
Cover crops are one strategy to help reduce nutrient runoff and clean up streams and rivers in the Corn Belt.

A coalition of state environmental groups called the Mississippi River Collaborative is pressuring the federal Environmental Protection Agency to do more to clean up waterways in the Mississippi River Watershed.

In a report released today, the group calls upon the EPA to take concrete action to force improvements in water quality.

"EPA is under the microscope on this," says Susan Heathcote, water program director for the Iowa Environmental Council, which is part of the collaborative. "And I don't believe that anybody wants to put at risk our drinking water or safety of our recreational waters."

She says recent drinking water problems in several states including Iowa, Ohio and Michigan, highlight a failure of leadership from the federal agency.   

Heathcote says for starters, the EPA could establish numerical limits for the quantity of certain nutrients allowed in water. That, she says, would allow for proactive monitoring, rather than reactive mitigation prompted by the current narrative standards. She says those focus on "aesthetically objectionable" conditions, such as a visible algae bloom, rather than measurable quantities of a pollutant.

The report, "Decades of Delay: EPA Leadership Still Lacking in Protecting America's Great River," claims voluntary, state-level clean-up strategies have failed to achieve significant gains. Heathcote says the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy offers viable solutions, but they aren't being implemented at a scale large enough to bring about change.

"One of the things that we're very hopeful we'll address here in Iowa in this coming legislative session is identifying a sustainable source of funding that we can dedicate to water quality and other natural resource priorities," Heathcote says.

She says the three-eighths of a cent tax allowed by the voter-approved Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund could help. It's been getting renewed attention in the lead-up to the 2017 session. Meanwhile, she says the EPA could take a stronger leadership role by enforcing or tightening provisions of the Clean Water Act.

Amy Mayer is a reporter based in Ames