People endangered?

Thursday, October 13, 2005

If the Environmental Protection Agency has its way, people could eventually go the way of a number of other extinct species in Iowa.

The EPA, in an effort to get Iowa to meet federal Clean Water Act standards, is trying to get the state to do the impossible - regulate both point and nonpoint source pollution to levels that are unmanageable if not impossible.

The difference between point and nonpoint pollution, of course, is that point sources are more easily detectable - such as a sewage treatment plant, for instance. Nonpoint sources are more like ag-related sources, such as drainage ditches, of which Iowa has more miles than any other state in the Union.

To understand just how much of an impact this could have on Iowa, County Sanitarian Kim Johnson told the Buena Vista County Board of Supervisors Tuesday that Alta residents could find themselves paying $35 more per household per month for the next twenty years for water treatment. Albert City residents, meanwhile, could find themselves paying another $70.

Not that there's a cause for immediate alarm, though. The proposed changes in state standards are at the beginning of rule-making process and would take a few years to go into effect and are subject to waivers if undue hardship would result to smaller communities.

Meanwhile, it's a known fact that many people move to smaller towns because it's less expensive to live. If you add $70 to the monthly cost of living to many families, many on fixed incomes, you are going to quite literally drive them out of house and home. Unfortunately, that's the result of what EPA mandates could do.

Equally illogical is that environmentalists want to hold drainage ditches to the same standards as natural streams. What that means is that the drainage district in Buena Vista County, as well as a number of other counties throughout Iowa, will be required to sustain aquatic life. Environmental groups are threatening both the EPA and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources with a lawsuit if the state doesn't provide the same water quality in the drainage system as it does in natural streams. Leave it to the city envirocrats to try to catch some fishies in a drainage ditch.

Point source pollution, or from treatment plants, accounts for only about 5 percent of the total pollution in the state's waters. If the same amount that is proposed to be spent on those facilities would be spent on such things as buffer strips along drainage canals and ditches, a far greater percentage of the overall pollution could be resolved.

Unless the DNR can find some way to exempt smaller communities from the new standards, those communities could be faced with disincorporation, Johnson said. "What could happen is that some towns could disincorporate and this could fall back on your guys' shoulders," Johnson told the Board of Supervisors Tuesday.

Yes, the nation's waterways do need to be cleaned up. They have needed to be cleaned up for a long time. What has happened to our nation's rivers and streams and lakes has not happened overnight. It has been happening since our country was first settled. For thousands of years, rivers have been considered as natural sewers.

Unfortunately, the problem does not go away but eventually winds up at the mouth of the Mississippi River in an area called the Dead Zone, a hundred-mile swath where nothing grows and going into the Gulf is like taking a toxic bath.

Iowa and South Dakota are both behind the times as far as environmental cleanup is concerned. We've been given a lot of breaks. Unfortunately, it appears as though those breaks could be about to end.

I only hope the residents of Albert City and Alta and other small towns aren't forced to pay for it.

* Mike Tidemann is the Pilot-Tribune's assistant editor. He can be reached at mtidemann@stormlakepilottribune.com