Environmental group: Iowa’s waterway cleanup plan could take 22,000 years

The Iowa Environmental Council is working to improve water quality in Iowa’s lakes, including West Okoboji Lake, shown here. (Photo by Perry Beeman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Iowa’s work to clean polluted waterways is so slow it will take as much as 22,000 years to meet some of the goals in the state’s voluntary plan, the Iowa Environmental Council reported.

The nonprofit’s latest review of the state’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy — the backbone of Iowa’s water quality efforts — found the plan still isn’t working, in the council’s view. State leaders, including the agriculture secretary, insist the program is making progress.

The strategy, adopted in 2013, requires action by sewage treatment plants and industrial facilities. However, state regulators and lawmakers have steadfastly declined to regulate the fertilizer runoff coming from corn and soybean fields that dominate the Iowa landscape. Instead, they have supported programs that pay farmers to take actions to reduce pollution.

One contaminant, nitrate, has been suspected of causing cancer. Levels were so high decades ago that 500,000-customer Des Moines Water Works had to install special equipment that is expensive to run, utility officials have said. Nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizers feed algae blooms in lakes and in […]