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Flooding Water Pollution Concerns Show Need for Improved Safety Standards

June 16, 2008

Des Moines, IA – State health officials warn again today that Iowans need to use caution when coming into contact with floodwaters, because of pollution that already has contaminated many local water supplies.

Lori Nelson with Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (ICII) says even before the deluge, Iowa's waterways have been among the most polluted in the nation, and the flooding has only spread the problem around. She believes it's time to zero in on the causes, including how Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) deal with manure.

"The more CAFOs we get in the state, the higher our levels get each year with ammonia, and I'm sure with this flooding it will be a lot bigger problem."

Factory farms are allowed to spread animal waste on frozen ground, where it can wash into nearby streams and rivers during the thaw and subsequent rains. Nelson wants the Department of Natural Resources' Environmental Protection Commission (EPC) to review CAFO manure management when the floodwaters recede.

"It should be banned. It doesn't absorb into the ground; it runs off, when the snow and ice melt, into our waterways."

Some in the industry defend the practice, saying most of the waste becomes soil fertilizer. Nelson acknowledges that not all the pollution in the floodwaters is farm-related. Some comes from industry, and even from aging wastewater treatment systems.

ICCI members have petitioned the EPC to ban factory farms from the practice, but livestock producers want the ban to be voluntary. The next step will include a series of hearings to collect public input on the issue.

Dick Layman/Craig Eicher, Public News Service - IA