Iowa leaps state regulators, calls on EPA for emergency water help

DES MOINES — The Iowa Environmental Council has petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to invoke emergency powers to protect sensitive soil and groundwater in northeast Iowa.

The council is holding a public webinar today and wants the EPA to address groundwater contamination in northeast Iowa’s so-called Driftless region. The groundwater there has a well-documented history of nitrate contamination.

Alicia Vasto, director of water program for the council, said the highly porous and soluble karst soil prevalent in the region is susceptible to contamination from centralized animal feeding operations.

“We did some analyses of private well data and public water systems and found that there was a lot of contamination of nitrate in those drinking water sources,” Vasto reported. “The state has really failed to take action meaningfully that would address those problems.”

The state has said it is constantly working to upgrade groundwater quality standards and is in the process of taking public input on creating yet another set of rules.

Vasto emphasized since the state has failed to address the water safety concerns for decades, the council and a coalition of other environmental groups have, in effect, gone above the state’s head to the EPA, asking the agency to implement an emergency stop gap on nitrate pollution the way the agency did in neighboring Minnesota last year.

“We’re asking that at, at minimum, the EPA would require the state of Iowa to do what they required the state of Minnesota to do under the same petition,” Vasto explained. “Because the geology of northeast Iowa is the same as of southeast Minnesota.”

The council’s recommendations include calling on the EPA to create a communications plan with residents whose water could be at risk, create a drinking water sampling plan, and establishing a thorough permitting process for centralized animal feeding operations.