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Focus on clean water over aesthetics

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | JULY 13, 2012 6:30 AM

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Maybe the Environmental Protection Agency's recent $60,000 urban-waters grant is just a government fa├žade to make the citizens of Iowa City forget our poor water quality. Sort of like the "We Proudly Serve Tap Water" signs hanging in the window of Quinton's and other establishments that the Water Treatment & Distribution Department gave to all downtown restaurants. The grant's purpose has been juggled between extremes like white-water rafting, and just beautifying the Burlington Street dam.

The problem the grant is "fixing" is that the current dam is supposedly a death trap, tumbling water and debris in circles with no direct escape. The Natural Resources brochure calls them "drowning machines," and five people have died in our own "drowning machine" since the mid-60s, as reported by The Daily Iowan.

The money came from the EPA's Urban Waters Program, a program specializing in the commercialization of riverfront activities by making them more attractive instead of getting to serious health issues.

"Water is essential for life and plays a vital role in the proper functioning of the Earth's ecosystems," the Urban Water Program's website explained. "Land is the source of many natural and renewable resources; it also supports residential, industrial, commercial, transportation, and other uses." And, basically, the rest of the information on the site is as banal.

We need to be working on ways to improve our drinking water, not a new place to do white-water rafting or go fishing.

According to the Environmental Working Group, a private company that tests water quality, in 2003 Iowa City's water contained more than the health-based limits in agricultural pollutants, sprawl and urban pollutants, industrial pollutants, naturally occurring pollutants, and water distribution and treatment byproducts.

And, in its most recent test, it found that Iowa City's water was above the Health Guideline limit in containing chloroform, lead, bromoform (a disinfection byproduct), bromodichloromethane (a byproduct that only occurs when numerous disinfectants react with organic chemicals), dibromochloromethane (a byproduct that only occurs when types of the latter two have been raised to alarming levels).

The company even detected nitrate from pesticides and fertilizers, and copper from road runoff, lawn pesticides, and human waste. Think these numbers are questionably frightening? The Environmental Working Group did three times the number of tests on the water than the Iowa City Water Department did.

But the question here really is what to value. On one hand, we could receive a pretty dam, and on the other, we could receive better drinking water. It's simple, really, that something already in daily use should be taken in higher importance over something that may have the potential to be put in daily use. This could be an effective use of the EPA's funding, something that could benefit the health of thousands instead of the view of a couple hundred. And, the investment into the water quality is financially smart as well.

Maybe you're not 100 percent libertarian, and you're just fiscally conservative and thinking that there are bigger financial issues for Iowa City than water quality. If so, you'd align with the citizens of Kansas City, Mo., who thought the same and now have to pay a $600,000 civil penalty to the United States for their poor water quality, according to the EPA's consent decree press release.

They'll also have to make repairs to their water system that have been mandated by the government and are estimated to cost $2.5 billion over the next 25 years. And according to the Environmental Working Group, the same group that the New York Times trusted for its "Toxic Water" report (Iowa City made it on, don't worry), the water in Kansas city only had one pollutant over legal limit to our eight.

This is a flea circus that the citizens of Iowa City should not be entertained by. It's ridiculous to combat the issue of an ugly bridge before the water that we drink daily.

From now on, with your information on government funding and your water, get a filter.


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