Iowa Legislators Introduce New Clean Water For Iowa Act

Bill targets factory farm water pollution amidst worsening crisis

Published Feb 8, 2024


Food System

Bill targets factory farm water pollution amidst worsening crisis

Bill targets factory farm water pollution amidst worsening crisis

Des Moines, IA — Amidst mounting public pressure to bolster transparency and accountability for Iowa’s worsening water pollution crisis, Representative Art Staed introduced the Clean Water for Iowa Act (HF2354), with the endorsement of Food & Water Watch and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement.

The proposed legislation requires that all medium and large concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), also called factory farms, obtain water pollution permits. Although water pollution permits are standard requirements for industrial polluters, nearly 4,000 factory farms currently operate in Iowa without such permits. A Food & Water Watch analysis of USDA and EPA data found that Iowa’s factory farms produce at least 108 billion pounds of manure every year, all without the oversight necessary to prevent contamination of surface and ground waters. The Act seeks to, for the first time, require these facilities to monitor for waste released into waterways and reduce such discharges where necessary to protect water quality.

Representative Art Staed said: “Voluntary approaches have proven that Iowa’s corporate agriculture industry will not regulate itself. We must act urgently to rein in factory farm pollution and clean up Iowa’s water. I am proud to introduce the Clean Water for Iowa Act, a mandatory approach to keeping waste out of our water.”

Food & Water Watch Iowa Organizer Jennifer Breon said:

“For too long, factory farms have been given a free pass to pollute our precious water. Today’s spiking cancer rates, algae-choked rivers, and skyrocketing water bills are the result of decades of see-no-evil legislating in Des Moines. Enough is enough. The Clean Water for Iowa Act will finally bring desperately needed transparency and accountability to our worsening water crisis.”

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (CCI) member Jan Wann from Mason City said: “Water is essential for all life. While factory farms pollute with no accountability, the people who are hired to protect our water are unable to do so. The Clean Water for Iowa Act would give the Department of Natural Resources the ability to hold factory farm polluters accountable. If Iowa had clean water, my grandkids and I would wade and swim in our waters. Supporting this bill is a reasonable first step to protecting Iowa’s water.”

Iowa Farmers Union President Aaron Lehman, a farmer from central Iowa, said: “Partnerships between farmers and the state of Iowa are essential to clean up Iowa’s waters. Unfortunately, Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy hasn’t come close to living up to that end of the bargain. Factory farms need to be held accountable in order for family farmers to thrive.”

Dr. Silvia Secchi, Professor of Geographical and Sustainability Sciences at the University of Iowa said: ”Iowa contains almost one fifth of America’s CAFOs. Yet, only 4 percent of them are permitted. By contrast, in Minnesota, over three quarters of CAFOs have permits. Minnesota is the second biggest CAFO state after Iowa. These numbers show that requiring permits for large livestock facilities in an intensely agricultural state is absolutely workable and does not have big negative repercussions for the industry, while it certainly is an important step to improve water quality for local communities.”

Iowa factory farms confine more than 80 million animals, producing a staggering amount of waste — 25 times as much as Iowa’s human residents. That waste, laden with pharmaceuticals, pesticides, pathogens including E.coli, and cancer-causing nitrates, finds its way into the water either directly or via runoff from application to oversaturated fields.

Iowa factory farms are a known contributor to the state’s worsening water pollution crisis. Iowa CAFOs and the row crops grown to feed their animals have contaminated over 1,000 miles of rivers and streams and more than 59,000 acres of lakes, ponds and wetlands in-state, contributing to fish kills and dead zones as far away as the Gulf of Mexico. Economists estimate that Iowa’s polluted waters and regular beach closures cost the state tens of millions of dollars annually in lost recreational benefits alone.

Nitrates in Iowa’s drinking water, from factory farms and other industrial sources, are linked to up to 300 cancer cases a year. Experts estimate that Iowa will spend up to $333 million over the next five years to remove these cancer-causing nitrates from drinking water, with small rural communities bearing nearly three-quarters of the cost.

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Press Contact: Phoebe Galt [email protected]