Cornucopia’s Take: Rural Iowa Senator, David Johnson, in concert with Bill Stowe, the head of public utility Des Moines Water Works, is calling for stricter regulation of farm run-off. Nitrate and phosphate pollution from agricultural run-off has soared in Iowa since 2002, and more than half of the rivers in the state have now been designated too contaminated for swimming or fishing. Farming communities, now suffering adverse health effects, have become aware that their wells are polluted. Iowa cities have been forced to invest in expensive filtration systems to provide clean water for people downstream from giant farms and feedlots, passing the exorbitant costs on to taxpayers. Water quality is a major issue in the fall gubernatorial race: Iowa’s voters face a choice between their politics and clean water.
In the Heart of the Corn Belt, an Uphill Battle for Clean Water
Yale Environment 360
by Mark Schapiro
Runoff from farms and feedlots has badly polluted Iowa’s waterways, more than half of which do not meet federal quality standards. Now, an unlikely coalition is calling for stricter controls to clean up the drinking water sources for millions of the state’s residents.
Health trumps politics,” said Iowa State Senator David Johnson before taking the stage at a raucous rally in Des Moines last winter to support strengthening the state’s water quality. In the marble rotunda of the state capitol, he rose to denounce the nitrogen and phosphates that have been flowing in ever-increasing quantities into Iowa’s public water supplies — and was cheered by the small crowd of family farmers, concerned mothers, and his new political allies, the legislature’s drastically outnumbered Democrats. Johnson had been one of the longest-serving Republicans in Iowa until he left the party to become an independent in 2016 after defying it repeatedly on one of the most divisive issues in Iowa — the integrity of the state’s water.
Iowa’s nitrogen load has been accelerating despite more than $100 million spent by the federal and state governments to rein it in. Starting in 1999, the concentration of nitrogen in the state’s major waterways has increased almost 50 percent, according to a study from the University of Iowa, published last spring in PLOS One. The battle over Iowa’s water had long been posed as one between rural and urban interests, until Johnson, whose district is one of the most thinly populated and heavily farmed in the state, came along. Read Full Article »