The state Environmental Protection Commission won’t require a numerical standard for nutrient content in the state’s lakes.
In a unanimous vote, the commission sided squarely with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, which encouraged the commission to reject a petition from environmental groups urging the state to adopt new standards.
The DNR cited “insufficient time” having elapsed since the commission last looked at the issue of nutrient lake pollution, a lack of study of the results of the state’s new nutrient reduction strategy and other reasons for not wanting to adopt the standards requested in a petition by the Iowa Environmental Council, the Environmental Law and Policy Center and other groups.
The petition asked the department to adopt standards for 159 lakes designated as “significantly publicly owned lakes” in the state. High nutrient levels, often caused by farm fertilizer runoff, can affect water quality and lead to rapid algae growth.
Josh Mandelbaum, an attorney with the Environmental Law and Policy Center, said the standards were developed to protect “the quintessential Iowa experience” of summertime swimming and recreation without having to worry about algal blooms and toxicity levels.
“One thing everyone can agree on is there’s an excess nutrient problem in Iowa,” said John Tack, an environmental specialist with the department. “When we have problems, the natural reaction from good people is they want action. The answer is we’re taking action.”
Tack told commissioners the department continues to monitor nutrient levels but thinks adopting “these proposed actions at this time” would not help.
“Adopting a number this year or today isn’t going to result in less nutrients in our lakes,” Tack said. “It takes programs to do that.”
Commissioners asked few questions leading up to the unanimous vote; those that were asked were skeptical of the petitioners.
Commissioner Brent Rastetter, for instance, said he didn’t think the proposed standards could fit all the variety of lake characteristics covered in the petition.
John Crotty, an attorney with the Environmental Protection Council, responded the standards could be changed for specific lakes the DNR had concerns about.
“What we saw today was the Iowa Environmental Commission to act to unfortunately deny Iowans the protection of clear goals for cleaner water in Iowa lakes,” Matt Hauge, director of communications and outreach for the Iowa Environmental Protection Council, said at an impromptu media conference held in the DNR lunchroom following the vote.
“We think we want to know where we are at the beginning to know that we got there at the end,” Hauge said. “Millions of dollars are being spent in nutrient reductions around the state, but we’re doing that without goals for reductions in Iowa’s lakes.”
Hauge said he wasn’t sure what the group’s next step would be, other than it would continue to work on the issue.