DES MOINES, Iowa - New rules passed by state lawmakers went into effect Wednesday concerning how the Iowa Department of Natural Resources monitors large livestock farms having more than 300 animals. These new rules are in line with a work-plan agreement the DNR worked out with the federal Environmental Protection Agency last September, after the agency determined the department was not adequately enforcing the Clean Water Act at large livestock confinements in the state.
But environmental activists from the group, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, are calling on the DNR to do more; they say in its present form, the DNR doesn't adequately hold these livestock farms accountable for manure spills into the state's water supply.
"We just want them to be held accountable because we value clean water, we value quality of life, we value family farming that's going to improve our soil and improve our state's economy," said Jess Mazour, a member of the activist group. "And, the way that the DNR is handling this right now, that will never happen. We'll just continue to have dirty water (and) manure spills."
Since September of 2013, the DNR has reported 55 manure spills from livestock confinements in the state. Of that, ICCI chose six to highlight, where they felt the most damage had been done. Of the six "highlighted" manure spills, though, two counties had an "unknown" amount - in gallons - of manure spilled into a body of water. ICCI says that's because the DNR doesn't have an amount on record, which is part of what they say they're angry about. Better record-keeping - and better farm evaluations - are changes the group is calling for.
"If you're a fisherman, if you like to swim or go boating. If you enjoy doing those things, you need clean water," Mazour said. "And right now, we don't have that. It's not safe for people to be in a lot of Iowa's waters, and Iowans value that."
While the DNR plans to evaluate the over 8,000 large livestock farms in the state over the next five years, ICCI activists say every farm should have an on-site inspection on a yearly basis. If that process were adopted, they say, it would be easier for the DNR to spot potential problems early, and eliminate manure spills. Right now, the department offers an online survey for livestock confinements to partake in, but Mazour says online surveys shouldn't replace on-site inspections.
A spokesperson for the DNR could not be reached for comment before press time. The department's attorney, Randy Clark, was recently quoted by Radio Iowa saying, “As I recall in our annual report we were slightly less than the 20% in the first year, but we anticipate that in future years we’ll catch up," referring to the progress in on-site inspections for the state's large livestock farms.