Iowans are asked to join “Clean Water Fight”
by Renée Brich, Managing Editor
STATEWIDE — Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (CCI) members have spent the summer in a “Clean Water Fight” to crack down on water pollution caused by factory farms. They are asking other concerned Iowans to join a statewide meeting on Zoom to learn about CCI’s actions against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for not upholding factory farm polluters to the Clean Water Act, identify what problems local communities have with polluted water, and discuss solutions.
In August, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will respond to a legal rule-making petition drafted by Iowa CCI and ally organizations. The petition demands the Clean Water Act is enforced in factory farms across the state.
According to an impaired water list from 2022, which includes data compiled from Iowa Department of Natural Resources, there are 750 polluted waterways across the state of Iowa. That number has more than tripled since 2002, when there were 238 waterways on the list.
DNR information states the major water quality problem in Iowa stems from non-point source pollution, which happens when rainfall, snow melt or irrigation water runs over land or through the ground and picks up pollutants and deposits them into streams, lakes or groundwater. Those pollutants include excess soil, bacteria and nutrients from farm fertilizers and manure.
According to the US Department of Agriculture, livestock and poultry create about 1.4 billion tons of manure a year in the United States, the majority coming from factory farms. These farms often store manure in ponds, which can overflow into lakes, streams, and rivers, and seep into groundwater, causing nitrogen and phosphorus to get into the water systems, contaminating drinking water. It can also cause toxic algae which is dangerous to aquatic life.
“It isn’t just that your creek might be a little dirty,” said Barb Kalbach, a fourth generation family farmer, registered nurse, and board president of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement.
“It impacts people in a lot of ways. We’ve put millions and millions of dollars into recreational parks and lakes in the state of Iowa, and they can’t be used a lot of times during the summer because they are polluted.” As of last week, 10 of Iowa’s state-owned beaches were deemed not recommended for swimming by the Iowa DNR, and two beaches were closed.
“It’s Iowa taxpayers who keep those lakes viable for the public to use, and that’s taken away from us because they refuse to manage industrial scale agriculture,” Kalbach said.
Kalbach realized the importance of clean water while utilizing well water when growing up on her families’ farm.
“We didn’t have running water when I was little. We walked to the well and carried it back inside. It became very valuable; you didn’t want to be the guy who used up the water and had to go back and get more.”
“I became aware that you want to make sure you have water, and you want to take care of what you do have.”
Kalbach said most citizens think water comes out of the tap, and as long as it comes out it’s fine, but that’s not always the case, which is why CCI has been holding public meetings.
“We’re getting out across the state, holding local meetings, talking to people about water quality in their communities, and getting more folks engaged and involved to put people-power pressure on the EPA to do the right thing,” the CCI website states.
There have been several changes in Iowa’s livestock production over the past few decades, Kalbach said, including the shift from pasture-based, family farms to concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), or industrial factory farms. The industrial farms are vertically integrated, meaning a single company is able to produce and provide a number of different products whose uses are complementary. This can occur for example, when a single company produces animal feed, sells it to the consumer, and ships it.
“Concentrating millions of corporate-owned animals and billions of gallons of toxic manure in factory farms — and then applying it and sometimes over-applying it — on surrounding fields – has been a disaster for our rivers and streams, reservoirs, public water systems and private wells. When I think about these changes, it’s crystal clear we have a water quality crisis on our hands,” Kalbach said.
“The structure of agriculture itself, at this point in time, and the direction it’s taken with vertical integration is completely to blame for the status of our water.”
Kalbach feels no one political party is responsible for the status of Iowa’s water. “They have both given into corporate agriculture, which I blame for the status of Iowa’s water today. Both political parties have carried water for the ag industry. They all support industrial ag, and a lot of that feeds into the dirty water issue.”
As an example, Kalbach said if a farmer has 50 hogs, and wanted to use the manure on his field, it just wouldn’t be enough to saturate the land. “It wouldn’t over do it, like it would from a hog confinement. The thing about the confinements is, when that pit gets full you have to empty it, bottom line. Which means it has to go on somebody’s field, somewhere.”
Kalbach said CCI is asking the EPA to start issuing Clean Water Act permits holding factory farms accountable to higher standards and to put tougher enforcement measures in place. They are also asking for tougher fines and penalties for environmental violations, and to make the factory farm corporations, not taxpayers, pay to clean up Iowa’s water.
“It doesn’t have to be this way,” Kalbach said.
Those interested in attending Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement’s virtual meeting Thursday, August 3 from 6 - 7:30 can find more information and RSVP at https://www.iowacci.org/upcoming-events/clean-water-fight-statewide-meeting