Iowa Public Television

 

States accused of not doing enough to clean up waterways

posted on April 7, 2000


EARLIER THIS YEAR A WHISTLE BLOWER CHARGED THE ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS WAS GINNING UP NUMBERS TO JUSTIFY MORE THAN A BILLION DOLLARS WORTH OF CONSTRUCTION. BARGE AND GRAIN INDUSTRIES OPERATING ON THE ILLINOIS AND MISSISSIPPI RIVERS FAVORED THE PROJECTS. BUT THE PLANS WERE STAUNCHLY OPPOSED BY ENVIRONMENTAL AND TAXPAYER GROUPS.

THE RESPONSE BY THE DEFENSE DEPARTMENT WAS TO SHIFT OVERSIGHT FOR SUCH PROJECTS TO THE ARMY'S ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR CIVIL WORKS. BUT CONGRESSIONAL REPUBLICANS SAY THE MOVE GIVES THE ADMINISTRATION, WHICH APPOINTS THE ASSISTANT SECRETARY, TOO MUCH CONTROL OVER WHAT PROJECTS THE CORPS WOULD IMPLEMENT. THE CONGRESSMEN THINK SUCH OVERSIGHT IS BEST CONDUCTED BY VARIOUS CONGRESSIONAL COMMITTEES.

IN THE INTERIM THE RIVER PROJECTS ARE ON HOLD, PENDING AN INVESTIGATION BY SEVERAL ARMS OF GOVERNMENT.

BUT IN ADDITION TO THE CORPS FLAP, AGRICULTURE THIS WEEK FINDS ITSELF IN THE CENTER OF ANOTHER ENVIRONMENTAL CONTROVERSY.

FROM THE GREAT LAKES ... TO AMERICA'S MAJOR WATERWAYS ... THE NATION IS IGNORING A KEY PROVISION OF THE CLEAN WATER ACT. THAT'S THE VERDICT OF THE NATIONAL WILDLIFE FEDERATION. THE CONSERVATION GROUP SAYS 38 STATES HAVE DONE LITTLE TO ADDRESS NON-POINT SOURCE POLLUTION, SUCH AS RUNOFF FROM FARMS AND FORESTS.

THERE'S A PROVISION IN THE CLEAN WATER ACT AIMED AT PREVENTING PESTICIDES, EXCESSIVE NUTRIENTS AND OTHER CHEMICALS - SO-CALLED NON-POINT SOURCE POLLUTION -- FROM FOULING WATERSHEDS. BY FEDERAL LAW, STATES ARE REQUIRED TO DESIGNATE WATERWAYS IMPAIRED BY SUCH POLLUTION AND DEVELOP PLANS TO DEAL WITH THE PROBLEM.

THE ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY LAST AUGUST PROPOSED A RULE THAT WOULD STRENGTHEN COMPLIANCE AND REQUIRE THAT ALL IMPAIRED WATERWAYS BE SAFEGUARDED WITHIN 15 YEARS. TO DATE, THE AGENCY SAYS STATES HAVE APPROVED ONLY A SMALL FRACTION OF THE 40,000 RUNOFF CONTROL PLANS NEEDED.

THE CONSERVATION GROUP'S STUDY GOES A STEP FURTHER. IT IDENTIFIES 19 STATES AS THOSE WITH THE WORST COMPLIANCE, THE MAJORITY FROM LARGELY AGRARIAN AREAS.

FARM GROUPS HAVE ISSUED A NUMBER OF COURT CHALLENGES TO EPA's AUTHORITY TO SET LIMITS ON WATER POLLUTION CAUSED BY RUNOFF.

IN ONE SUCH CASE, A FEDERAL JUDGE HAS BACKED THE EPA, RULING THAT REGULATORS CAN COMBAT SUCH POLLUTION BY PRESSING STATES TO CHANGE LAND USE PRACTICES.

IN A LAWSUIT FILED BY TWO CALIFORNIA LANDOWNERS, THE AMERICAN FARM BUREAU FEDERATION, AND OTHERS, THE PLAINTIFFS ARGUED THE CLEAN WATER ACT ALLOWS EPA ONLY TO SET LIMITS FOR SOURCE POINT POLLUTION, LIKE FROM SEWAGE PIPES OR SMOKESTACKS.

THE JUDGE DISAGREED, SAYING THE LAW DOES NOT DISTINGUISH BETWEEN SOURCES OF POLLUTION IN REQUIRING QUALITY STANDARDS FOR ALL WATERWAYS.

SPURRED BY WARNINGS FROM THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT THAT IT WAS NOT DOING ENOUGH, THE STATE OF IOWA IS PLANNING TO SPEND MORE THAN 11 MILLION DOLLARS OF STATE MONEY PLUS AS MUCH AS 85 MILLION DOLLARS IN MATCHING FEDERAL AND PRIVATE FUNDS TO CURB FARM RUN-OFF INTO WATERWAYS.

THE GOAL IS TO CREATE MORE THAN 32 THOUSAND ACRES OF WETLANDS AND 400-THOUSAND ACRES OF BUFFER STRIPS ALONG THE STATE'S LAKES AND STREAMS.

MEANWHILE GEORGIA STATE LAWMAKERS HAVE PASSED LEGISLATION THAT WOULD ALLOW THE LEGISLATURE TO OVER-RIDE WATER QUALITY RULES THAT MIGHT AFFECT AGRICULTURE. THE BILL AWAITS THE GOVERNOR'S SIGNATURE OR VETO.

Tags: Energy/Environment news pollution water water quality