No April Fooling On Factory Farm Pollution

No April Fooling on Factory Farm Pollution


Des Moines Water Works blames “agriculture runoff – especially livestock operations and manure fertilized fields” – for ammonia and organic matter pollution high enough that the water utility has already exceeded at least one drinking water standard this year


Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement Action Fund (Iowa CCI Action Fund) members say time in this year’s legislative session is running out for Governor Branstad and leaders in both political parties to address the kinds of factory farm pollution that continue to cause a public health risk to hundreds of thousands of Central Iowans.

On March 28, Des Moines Water Works announced it had exceeded a drinking water standard for the pollutant “trihalomethanes” and said, “Spring melting has caused significant water quality concerns for Des Moines Water Works, in particular ammonia present in our rivers from livestock runoff and other upstream land uses.”

Des Moines Water Works went on to note, “High levels of organic matter and ammonia in the rivers are often the result of agriculture runoff, especially livestock operations and manure fertilized fields.” 

The water utility’s announcement, which may be read here, generated some publicity, but the specific role of industrial animal factories that Des Moines Water Works mentions multiple times was usually downplayed or overlooked.

“The latest threat to Central Iowa drinking water is just one more reminder that factory farm pollution poses major public health risks,” said Barb Lang, a retired schoolteacher from Des Moines.  “Time is running out for Governor Branstad and the Iowa legislature to do something meaningful this year to stand up for clean water and crack down on factory farm pollution.”

Des Moines residents have noticed their drinking water tastes and smells like chlorine the last several weeks.  Chlorine is a disinfectant that Des Moines Water Works says is necessary to reduce runoff impacts, but the water utility also warns that potential health risks may develop if the heavy chlorination continues for a long period of time.

Last year, Des Moines Water Works spent nearly one million dollars removing nitrates from the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers because of heavy agribusiness runoff upstream from Iowa’s capitol city.

Iowa CCI Action Fund members “People First Iowa” legislative agenda calls for Clean Water Act permits for every factory farm, local control of factory farm siting, increased separation distances, and stronger permitting thresholds.

Iowa has more than 630 polluted waterways and the state’s more than 8,500 factory farms are responsible for at least 728 documented manure spills since 1996, according to Iowa Department of Natural Resources records.

A new rule to bring Iowa factory farm enforcement into compliance with the federal Clean Water Act is scheduled to be released for official public comment on April 16.

The Branstad Administration agreed to write the long-anticipated rule when the state signed a binding work plan agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last September to address deficiencies in the state regulatory program first identified by Iowa CCI members alongside the Environmental Integrity Project and the Iowa Sierra Club.

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