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One Third of Iowa Watersheds Make U-S-G-S Top 150 Polluting List

April 6, 2009

Des Moines, IA – The U.S. Geological Survey has released a new list identifying 42 Iowa watersheds among the top 150 that are polluting the Mississippi River Basin and contributing to an 8,000 square mile "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico. That list is reinforcing the opposition of environmental and farm groups to legislation that would allow large Iowa farms to continue a practice of spreading liquid manure on ice-and-snow-covered ground in winter.

The executive director of the Iowa Environmental Council, Marian Riggs Gelb, says the measure, SF 432, approved recently by the state Senate, undermines new rules proposed by the Department of Natural Resources that would regulate manure runoff.

"The DNR rules are based on science and a desire to protect water quality. So, if there's a compromise to be reached between the rules and those supporting Senate File 432 that still leaves strong protective rules, I'm certainly open to that; but as the bill stands now it's just bad policy."

Gelb says the USGS watershed information is good to have because it gives Iowa an opportunity to target its water quality resources on those areas that can have the biggest impact on the state and on the Gulf of Mexico.

Those supporting the legislation want the DNR to relax the rules, claiming that those regulations are too strict. But Iowa Environmental Council Water Program Director Susan Heathcote says the state has a big role to play in reducing water pollution runoff and keeping Iowa waters clean.

"What we do to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus pollution that's causing the dead zone is also going to improve water quality in Iowa, so there's really a benefit locally as well as to the dead zone."

Among the 42 Iowa watersheds with the most serious nitrogen-loading and drinking-water problems are the Cedar and Des Moines River watersheds. The Iowa House is expected to debate SF-432 this week.

David Law/Dick Layman, Public News Service - IA