Feds threaten to assume Iowa waterway protection
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has threatened to take over protection of Iowa's waterways from the state unless local officials make significant changes.
The Des Moines Register reported Tuesday (http://dmreg.co/UA9dPa ) that a federal investigation shows the state has been lax in requiring that livestock operations follow rules to keep manure out of Iowa's creeks, rivers and lakes.
The EPA report said the state Department of Natural Resources hasn't properly inspected livestock facilities and failed in its duties about half the time when responding to livestock pollution.
EPA spokesman Kris Lancaster said the agency would likely work with the DNR in hopes the agency would agree to changes before taking control of clean water enforcement in Iowa.
DNR spokesman Kevin Baskins said his agency tries to work with livestock operations to reduce pollution rather than imposing fines or other penalties. He said this strategy works better than one that relies on punishment for not following environmental rules.
"The assertion that DNR has not assessed enough fines is an unfortunately broad generalization and misleading characterization," Baskins wrote in an email to the Register in response to questions. "Fines are determined by circumstances unique to each instance."
The EPA investigated the state's enforcement after receiving a petition five years ago from environmental groups, which called for the federal agency to take control because of what the groups argued was lax state enforcement.
In an EPA report from July obtained by the Register, federal regulators found that the DNR didn't respond adequately about half the time when responding to pollution from livestock operations. The state also assessed fines far below the maximum allowed by the state -- the EPA deemed that 49 percent of penalties in 150 livestock cases reviewed were inadequate.
The EPA claimed the state also didn't follow its own enforcement plans and allowed manure applications closer to waterways than allowed by federal rules.
Baskins said the DNR has been working with livestock operators to improve compliance, and in the past decade has responded to nearly 85,000 requests from producers for help in complying with the law. During that time, the percentage of large livestock operations reporting a least one waste discharged in a year dropped from 5.2 percent to 2.5 percent, he said.
Information from: The Des Moines Register, http://www.desmoinesregister.com
Copyright 2012 The AP.