- Associated Press - Friday, May 9, 2014

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - A new rule that Iowa environmental regulators say will improve water quality through better enforcement of livestock farms was widely criticized as too weak at a public hearing Friday in Des Moines.

The Department of Natural Resources is holding six such hearings around the state to take comments on the rule, which the agency says will bring Iowa into compliance with federal clean water regulations. But environmental groups and others say the rule isn’t strict enough to prevent manure and fertilizer runoff from contaminating rivers and lakes.

It’s a difficult balance Iowa must find between encouraging livestock production, which generates more than $13 billion a year in sales, and handling the waste generated by 60 million chickens, 20 million pigs, 9 million turkeys and 4 million cows.

“Application of unlimited manure and commercial fertilizer and the ease in transport to our rivers through tile drainage has significantly degraded water quality,” Des Moines Water Works CEO Bill Stowe said at the hearing Friday. “Manure from livestock should be managed and disposed of in a manner that does not pollute surface water.”

Stowe was among about 60 people who packed into a small conference room at DNR headquarters Friday. Most opposed the proposed rule, including many members of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, a citizen activist group.

One of the Iowa CCI members complained about the additional cost to cities of cleaning the water polluted by livestock manure runoff.

“Why do I have to pay for their pollution?” said Jess Mazour, of Des Moines. “Do your job so we here don’t have to pay so they can get rich.”

The DNR said the proposed rule would satisfy an agreement it signed with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in September 2013. The deal was struck after the EPA threated to take over federal Clean Water Act enforcement if Iowa officials didn’t improve livestock farm enforcement.

The rule deals with requirements that livestock operations be specific distances from rivers and streams and details when owners are subject to fines and penalties for failure to comply with regulations.

CCI says the rules gives the DNR too much discretion to interpret the federal law in ways that will allow them to continue to do little to hold livestock farms accountable for hundreds of manure spills and water pollution.

“I’ve raised hogs all my life, and what Gov. Branstad’s DNR is allowing these out-of-state factory farm corporations to do to our water quality is shameful,” said Larry Ginter, a CCI member and family farmer from Rhodes.

Justine Stevenson, a spokeswoman for the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association, favored the proposed rules, saying farmers follow environmental regulations and those applying manure must attend training and complete certification.

Iowa DNR must inspect the state’s 8,500 animal feeding operations, and those found releasing manure into streams are required to stop the discharge or get a permit, she said.

“Cattle producers understand the significance of having clean water and work daily to ensure the future of their operations and the environment for future generations,” she said.

DNR spokesman Kevin Baskins said the agency is pleased it’s getting input on the proposed rules. In addition to the turnout at the public hearings, the agency has received 2,000 written comments, he said.

He said some comments appear to suggest Iowa’s regulation of livestock farms in connection with water quality should be more stringent that federal EPA regulations.

“We are prohibited by Iowa law from doing that,” Baskins said.

Stowe called on EPC members with a personal financial interest in the livestock industry to abstain from voting on the rule because they have a conflict of interest.

Of those appointed by Branstad to the nine-member commission, five own livestock farms. Branstad has argued it makes sense to appoint people with experience in the industry.

CCI also wants the state to force livestock farms to get a Clean Water Act permit that forces them to abide by stronger environmental standards or be shut down.

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