IEC Files Petition to Protect Iowa Lakes

On November 1, Iowa Environmental Council (IEC) and Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) filed a petition asking Iowa’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to establish and enforce numeric criteria for significant Iowa lakes.

The petition was filed with Iowa’s Environmental Protection Commission (EPC), the agency that will then make a recommendation to DNR to approve or deny the request.

Iowa DNR already has narrative criteria for these lakes and has already calculated the numeric limits necessary to improve water quality. The agency simply has not implemented the regulations.

IEC has suggested a 6- to 9-month timeline for EPC to reach its decision. If the petition is denied, next steps include possible litigation or a petition directly to US EPA to force Iowa DNR to enact the numeric limits to protect the health of Iowa’s water resources and its residents.

IEC and ELPC are founding members of the Mississippi River Collaborative (MRC) and have participated for over a decade in MRC’s efforts to get states (or ideally, EPA) to establish numeric criteria for nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, which is responsible for harmful algal blooms that deteriorate water quality, aquatic life and habitats, and the health of humans and pets that are exposed.

The federal Clean Water Act, to which states are subject, only requires states to establish narrative criteria for nitrogen and phosphorus, not numeric limits. Numeric limits are vastly different from narrative criteria in that they are not subject to individual interpretation. Water monitoring can identify high levels of pollutants, data analysis can help pinpoint the source, and numeric limits can ensure that someone or something is held accountable for the pollution.

Not one of the states along the Mississippi River has established numeric criteria for nitrogen and phosphorus, and the Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico is the biggest proof that the problem is not going away. All sorts of economic and political forces are fighting numeric limits for nitrogen and phosphorus pollution as the environment continues to suffer from the effects.

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