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Hearings Begin in Battle Over Iowa's Topsoil Rule

PHOTO: Iowans get a chance to weigh in today and next week as the Environmental Protection Commission holds hearings on proposed changes to the state's four-inch rule on topsoil. Photo credit: Carmen Shields/Flickr.
PHOTO: Iowans get a chance to weigh in today and next week as the Environmental Protection Commission holds hearings on proposed changes to the state's four-inch rule on topsoil. Photo credit: Carmen Shields/Flickr.
March 18, 2015

DES MOINES, Iowa - A series of public hearings begins today on a controversial proposal to change the rule on the preservation of topsoil at Iowa's home and business construction sites.

As it stands now, if one acre or more of land is disturbed during construction and there is at least four inches of topsoil present, it must be restored unless that isn't feasible. Some developers want that requirement eased because of cost.

Lucy Hershberger, owner of Forever Green landscaping of Coralville, said the rule shouldn't be changed because, when the topsoil is stripped, "those yards don't have any ability to absorb any of that rainfall, or a minimal amount of that rainfall, so we get a lot of runoff into the rivers, lakes and streams - and that runoff often is carrying excess nutrients and other chemicals directly into those waterways, which causes a lot of damage."

In addition to helping protect water quality, Hershberger - who served on the stakeholder group that reviewed the rule - said it also helps with the mitigation of flooding from heavy rainfalls.

Hershberger also noted that the restoration of four inches of topsoil at construction sites is important for those people moving into new construction with lawns made from sod.

"A homeowner really can't tell, when they're buying that house, whether that's good soil or bad soil and the lawns don't establish well in the heavy clay," she said. "That means they're going to be more likely to deteriorate over the years and also to require more fertilization and more irrigation just to do well."

Today's first hearing on the topsoil rule will be held in Cedar Rapids, with others planned for next week in Davenport and Des Moines.

More information on the rule hearings is online at iowadnr.gov.

John Michaelson, Public News Service - IA