Water quality debated at DNR meeting
Members of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) gave a presentation on water quality in the Washington Free Public Library Wednesday evening. Rochelle Cardinale, the DNR’s water quality standards coordinator, gave a Power Point slideshow on the issue in the Nicola-Stoufer Room at the library.
The DNR revises its water quality standards every three years, in accordance with the federal Clean Water Act. DNR representatives travel the state to collect comments from Iowans about the state’s rivers and streams.
Cardinale said the purpose of these public meetings is to give Iowans a voice on how water is used in the state.
“This is the public’s opportunity to tell us what is important to them,” she said. “We want to hear Iowans’ concerns about potential pollutant levels, how streams are being used and how to protect existing water quality.”
Cardinale explained that the DNR classifies waterways by how the public uses them. These classifications then determine the acceptable level of bacteria that can be put in those waters. For instance, if people commonly swim in a particular stream, that stream will fall under the strictest regulations. If, on the other hand, people only fish in the stream, then it will fall under looser regulations.
Cardinale says that she often hears from people who want all waters to be given the highest priority level. She said she and everyone at the DNR want the state’s water to be as clean as possible, but it’s important to remember that regulating clean water can be costly. She said the DNR is cognizant of the burden these rules impose on cash-strapped cities and businesses.
One of the common suggestions Cardinale has heard is the need for more buffer strips along streams. A buffer strip is a patch of land on which vegetation is planted to prevent the soil from running off into the stream.
Cardinale has found herself battling against a misconception that levels of arsenic in waterways are higher now because more arsenic is detected. She said arsenic-detection technology has advanced in recent years to the point where arsenic that was not detected before is now being discovered. This does not mean there is necessarily more arsenic in a stream, but rather that arsenic was not properly measured before. She added that arsenic is a naturally occurring chemical in the water and soil.
The pollution from hog confinements is often brought up at the meetings Cardinale hosts. She said that is not an issue she deals with. Her job has more to do with designating the way in which a stream is used to prevent further degradation.
Members of the audience got a chance to voice their opinions during the question and answer portion of the program. Kay Ciha of Kalona said Iowans have a chance to save their sources of clean water. She said if they don’t save it, they may not get it back.
“Once it’s gone, it’s gone,” she said.