DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The general manager of Des Moines Water Works said Tuesday the agency might be forced to sue the government if state regulators and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency fail to limit the nitrate levels that enter rivers from farm field fertilizer runoff.
Bill Stowe joined members of the citizen activist group Environment Iowa at the Capitol to call for legislation that would set state standards to limit farm field runoff and fine violators.
The group presented Iowa Sen. Dick Dearden with a petition including 5,000 signatures from Iowa residents calling for legislative action to reduce the amount of nitrate and other pollutants in the state's rivers and streams. Dearden is chairman of the Senate Natural Resources Committee.
The Des Moines Democrat said it's important for the Legislature to provide funding for environmental programs including conservation measures that help filter out contaminants. He said it is unlikely that a bill including mandatory restrictions on runoff would pass.
"I don't see it happening but we can keep the issue out in front of the voters," Dearden said.
Stowe, who manages the Des Moines-based municipal water treatment plant that serves about 500,000 residents, said he has spent $500,000 in the last two months to run a system that removes nitrate from water. It continues to run at a cost of about $7,000 a day.
The EPA says drinking water should remain below 10 milligrams per liter of nitrate to be safe but the Des Moines and Raccoon rivers, which Des Moines Water Works draws from for source water, have exceeded that level for two months. The Water Works plant is struggling to keep the drinking water delivered to taps at between 7 and 9 milligrams per liter, Stowe said.
"Our ability to meet the drinking water standard is perilously close to being violated," he said. "Unless nitrate levels drop we're going to reach a point where the demand frankly outstrips our ability to treat it safely and that's a huge issue for us."