Petition seeks setting quality standards regarding nutrient levels in public lakes

DES MOINES – A petition by the  Iowa Environmental Council and the Environmental Law and Policy Center to have the state  adopt numeric water quality standards for certain public recreational lakes appears to be headed for denial.

A draft document included in the state’s Environmental Protection Commission’s meeting packet for its Feb. 19 meeting is for denying the petition. Click here to call up the draft document. Open the EPC Meeting Packet and Agenda.

The petition asks for standards that account for “water transparency, concentration of chlorophyll-a, concentration of total phosphorus, and concentration of total nitrogen. The proposed rules would also designate 159 lakes as “Significant Public Recreational Lakes” which would then subject these lakes to the proposed nutrient-related standards,” according to the document.

“Setting numeric limits for nutrient pollution in our lakes is essential for protecting public health and the environment,” said Josh Mandelbaum, an attorney at ELPC in a December news release. “These limits provide a clear, non-variable standard for the state to use to assess water quality, determine which of our lakes are excessively polluted, and decide when and where to take action – before recurring algae blooms become an even larger problem than they already are.”

The Iowa Environmental Council’s news release is at the bottom of this article.

The state’s draft document’s reasons to deny include that neither state nor federal law requires the numeric nutrient criteria and the state has criteria already to protect recreational issues.

The denial reason also takes the petition to task for not establishing “sufficient scientific rationale” and the impacts adoption would have.

“The approval of the Petition would cause significant economic impacts to the affected wastewater treatment facilities. The petitioners have not adequately justified the imposition of such economic burdens nor established how the expenditures of such funds would achieve improvements to water quality.”

It also defends the state’s efforts to improve water quality and states the a rulemaking process to get input by affected parties wound be needed.

The petition seeks numeric standards for “water transparency, concentration of chlorophyll-a, concentration of total phosphorus, and concentration of total nitrogen. The proposed rules would also designate 159 lakes as ‘Significant Public Recreational Lakes’ which would then subject these lakes to the proposed nutrient-related standards.”

The petition is on the agenda for the Environmental Protection Commission meeting 10 a.m., Feb. 19, in the auditorium of the Wallace State Office Building, 502 E. Ninth St. in Des Moines.

At the start of the meeting, Commissioners will vote on the petition for rulemaking.

Next on the agenda, at 11 a.m., commissioners will hear two referrals to the Attorney General’s office. The DNR recommends referring Phoenix Investors, LLC, and JB2 Environmental concerning alleged asbestos violations that occurred during an asbestos abatement project in Newton.

Following lunch, commissioners will hear a Demand for a Hearing from Story County on the Longview Pork, LLC, construction permit for an animal feeding operation.

The meeting is open to the public and time for public comment is scheduled for the petition and the Demand for a Hearing. To sign up to speak, contact Jerah Sheets prior to the start of that topic. To submit written comments or sign up prior to the meeting, contact Jerah Sheets at Jerah.Sheets@dnr.iowa.gov or by calling 515-313-8909 or mail to Jerah Sheets at the Iowa DNR, 502 E. Ninth St., Des Moines, IA 50319. Please submit supporting materials by noon on Feb. 18.

Also on the agenda in the afternoon, DNR will present the fiscal year 2018 annual report and budget for the Environmental Management System Program—projects that leverage local funding with grants to improve solid waste stewardship. Commissioners will hear success stories from two of the 13 participants.

Commissioners will also be asked to approve a contract with the city of Clear Lake for a watershed project in Cerro Gordo and Hancock counties.

Finally, revised air quality rules are up for approval, followed by general discussion.

The complete agenda and item briefs are available on the DNR website and summarized below:

  • Petition for Rulemaking  – Numeric Water Quality Standards for Nutrients in Significant Public Recreational Lakes in Iowa
  • Referrals to the Attorney General
  • Demand for Hearing – Story County – Longview Permit
  • Environmental Management System Program Fiscal Year 2018 Annual Report
  • Contract with City of Clear Lake for the CLEAR Watershed Project
  • Final Rules: Air Quality Regulatory Certainty Rules Part 3 – Chapters 20, 22, 23 and 25

Commissioners include: Ralph Lents, Menlo, chair; Joe Riding, Altoona, vice chair; Rebecca Guinn, Bettendorf, Secretary; Mary Boote, Des Moines; Nancy Couser, Nevada; Lisa Gochenour, Logan; Howard Hill, Cambridge; Harold Hommes, Windsor Heights; and Bob Sinclair, Sigourney. Bruce Trautman is the acting director of the DNR.

Any person attending the public meeting who has special requirements such as those related to mobility or hearing impairments should contact the DNR or ADA Coordinator at 515-725-8200, Relay Iowa TTY Service 800-735-7942, or Webmaster@dnr.iowa.gov, and advise of specific needs.

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News release

Environmental Groups Call on Iowa Department of Natural Resources to Protect Iowa’s Lakes

posted on Friday, December 14, 2018 in Water and Land News

Call to adopt numeric criteria to measure and protect recreational lakes

Des Moines, Iowa — The Iowa Environmental Council (IEC) and Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) are calling on the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) to establish numeric nutrient criteria for Iowa’s recreational lakes.

The environmental groups filed a petition with the IDNR in November, making this the second time the two groups have petitioned the IDNR on this issue. The agency’s Environmental Protection Commission will discuss the history of numeric nutrient criteria requests in Iowa and the petition at their upcoming meeting on December 18.

Numeric nutrient criteria, a missing component of the state’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy, would establish benchmarks for the state’s recreational lakes, identifying the threshold amount of nutrient pollution that Iowa lakes can withstand while still supporting safe recreational uses. Establishing numeric nutrient criteria as requested by the petition is necessary to protect Iowa lakes designated for recreational use and is therefore required under the federal Clean Water Act.

“Setting numeric limits for nutrient pollution in our lakes is essential for protecting public health and the environment,” says Josh Mandelbaum, an attorney at ELPC. “These limits provide a clear, non-variable standard for the state to use to assess water quality, determine which of our lakes are excessively polluted, and decide when and where to take action – before recurring algae blooms become an even larger problem than they already are.”

Agriculture is a primary source of nutrient pollution (i.e., nitrogen and phosphorus), according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). When levels of nutrient pollution become excessive, they can cause harmful algal blooms, also called cyanobacteria or “blue-green” algae, to grow in lakes. Under certain conditions, these blooms can release toxins like microcystin that can cause illnesses in people and animals.

The IDNR has routinely monitored for microcystin at state park beaches located at Iowa lakes. The monitoring data shows an overall increasing trend in the number of microcystin exceedances/advisories issued by the IDNR annually since 2006. The 2012 Nutrient Reduction Strategy sets no specific numeric goals or benchmarks for water bodies in Iowa, making it difficult to accurately measure how far the state has come toward reaching the 45% reduction without numeric criteria to measure against. After six years of the Nutrient Reduction Strategy, Iowa lakes remain threatened by excessive nutrient pollution.

Utilizing numeric nutrient criteria would provide transparency, improve decision making, and increase fiscal responsibility, argues Cindy Lane, Water Program Director at IEC. “There are limited public dollars to restore our lakes and implement protective conservation practices. Knowing which lakes have exceeded or are close to exceeding recommended levels of nutrient pollution will allow the state to better utilize those limited resources and triage our most important recreational lakes first – lakes that may also be designated for drinking water use or that generate significant economic benefits.”

According to a recent IDNR report on lake restoration, visits to Iowa lakes generate $1.2 billion in annual spending. 6 in 10 Iowans visit lakes in the state multiple times in a year.

“Protecting our recreational lakes is important to Iowa’s economic and public health,” says Jennifer Terry, Executive Director at IEC. “Iowans cannot afford the cost of not having safe public places to recreate and be healthy and active. Our rural economies and businesses cannot afford to lose the economic benefits that recreational lakes provide.”

The environmental groups and the EPA have been calling on the state to set numeric criteria for more than a decade. Under the guidance of an advisory panel, the IDNR developed recommended nutrient criteria for Iowa’s recreational lakes in 2008 but failed to then implement those recommendations. The recent petition is the second request by the IEC and ELPC to adopt these standards.

Says Mandelbaum, “It’s time for the DNR to act on the scientific evidence and the requirements of the Clean Water Act. It is time to adopt these lake standards to protect the public health and economic well-being of Iowans who rely on, use and enjoy their lakes.”

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