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Iowans Work to Save "Actual" Earth on Earth Day

Flooding, such as that seen in Iowa in 2008, could be avoided in part through better topsoil management. (Newtben33/Wikimedia Commons)
Flooding, such as that seen in Iowa in 2008, could be avoided in part through better topsoil management. (Newtben33/Wikimedia Commons)
April 22, 2016

DES MOINES, Iowa - The nutrient-rich topsoil that's taken away to level the land when homes and other new buildings are constructed doesn't often get replaced.

While some cities and towns require that it's put back, many don't, and construction companies often sell off the soil.

But Kari Carney, executive director of 1000 Friends of Iowa, says homeowners and Iowans in general end up paying the price.

"Homeowners make the assumption when they buy houses in developments that they've got dirt underneath the turf. But the turf quickly dies and then, they're spending a small fortune putting chemicals, trying to get something to grow," she says. "You know, if it rains, that all ends up running off and contributing to water pollution."

Because there's no topsoil to soak it up, she says much of that polluted rainwater ends up flooding streams and rivers.

Carney's group works on responsible land use in Iowa. She says there are ways to save the soil - when people know that it's a problem.

"If people are buying new homes, they can stipulate in their contracts that they want to have that topsoil returned to the site, to the lot of their house," says Carney.

And, even though the Iowa Department of Natural Resources introduced a rule in 2012 requiring four inches of topsoil to be replaced, Carney says it was altered last summer.

"They added the words 'unless it's infeasible.' So, there's no description of what that means," she says. "So there's no teeth, no enforcement. So, what we've been doing then is going asking communities to introduce these rules and pass ordinances."

The group offers a toolkit explaining ways to prevent the problem, online at

Bob Kessler, Public News Service - IA