Dengler Domain: Water Quality

Water is what makes the world go round. It is fascinating that something as simple as water is so vital to the Earth. Without water, there would be no world and up to 60% of the human adult body is composed of water. Having high quality water is vital to human health whether it be in the city or in the country. Unfortunately, Iowa lawmakers might be pushing us in the wrong direction.

According to Iowa Public Radio in 2019, the Environmental Working Group found through their analysis 40% of wells tested had coliform bacteria. This indicates E. Coli may be present. While some strains can be harmless, EPA guidelines state there is no safe level of coliform bacteria. In addition, 12% of wells tested had nitrate levels at or above 10 parts per million (ppm) and 22% had nitrate levels at five ppm. The EPA’s legal limit for nitrates in drinking water is 10 ppm, and several researchers have demonstrated levels as low as five ppm have been associated with increased risks of adverse health effects including bladder, ovarian and colon cancer, and birth defects.

This is where Iowa lawmakers come in. According to the Cedar Rapids Gazette, on Tuesday the Iowa House passed Senate File 558 which shifts $500,000 from the Nutrient Research Center at Iowa State University to a water quality program in the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. This ISU center supports water quality monitoring sensors at the University of Iowa and eliminated a requirement the ISU center work with the UI and the University of Northern Iowa. The concern of researchers and water quality proponents is that the shifting of this money could potentially eliminate these sensors. Leaving less statistics to evaluate how the state of Iowa is reducing its nitrate load in the state’s water.

This all comes on the 10-year anniversary of the states’ voluntary nutrient reduction strategy according to Progressive Farmer by DTN. These sensors helped gauge the value of conservation practices like cover crops and saturated buffers used across the state to reduce nutrient runoff. By potentially getting rid of these sensors which provide real-time data, it will be harder to evaluate the practices and Iowa’s progress.

I did not pass math class in school by telling my teacher I knew the multiplication tables. The teacher made me take a test, and if the teacher hadn’t done so, that would be malpractice. Progress is marked by tests and in the case of water, sensors. I would like to think by knowing the multiplication tables well I am greatly impacting the world, but it is nowhere compared to making sure Iowa’s water quality is in tip-top shape.

For generations, Iowa has been an agricultural state. Times have changed where farmers farm more land and less people live on the land who farm it. This can potentially lead to less time less time to check each individual piece of land. The consolidation of land and agricultural companies has led to less vibrant rural communities with less services like medical, farm equipment dealers, restaurants, and shrinking school districts.

By potentially eliminating these sensors, it could lead to further consolidation as the bigger farmers overtake the small family farms and lead to less accountability on the water. This could be a lose-lose for Iowa leading to less vibrant rural communities and no check on water quality. Water is life, and with no high-quality water, there is no life – figuratively and literally.

Sean Dengler is a writer, comedian, farmer, and host of the Pandaring Talk podcast who grew up on a farm between Traer and Dysart. You can reach him at sean.h.dengler@gmail.com.