All posts by Donna Taylor

4 inch topsoil – Des Moines Register – Editorial Position

The Des Moines Register took an editorial position in yesterday’s edition supporting the 4 in topsoil rule as it applies to new construction under the headline: “Don’t erode topsoil rule for new homes”.

The editorial notes:  “Last year, more than 140 Iowans wrote to the state asking that the four-inch rule be retained.  At the same time, just over 100 individuals — almost all of them employed by construction, development and real estate industries — wrote in opposition to the rule.  (A full 12 percent of those opponents are executives of Hubbell Homes and its affiliates.)”

The editorial closes by noting “[the four-inch rule] not only protects consumers from unwittingly buying properties that have been stripped of their topsoil, but also protects what is arguably Iowa’s single most valuable resource.  And without this rule individual homeowners, as well as our cities and counties, will incur costs that dwarf the expense associated with topsoil preservation.”

We’ve got very little time to make a difference

The Iowa DNR held its last public hearing on the proposed change to the 4″ topsoil rule last Friday.  The existing rule requires builders to replace four inches of topsoil to development sites.  Developers and homebuilders have lobbied hard to change the ruling.  The change would remove the four inches or more topsoil requirement and replace it with language requiring topsoil to be replaced unless it is “infeasible”.  The proposed change is vague, at best, and will leave it to builders to decide how much, if any, topsoil to replace.  With the current discussion about impaired waters, run-off, erosion, a nutrient reduction strategy and nitrates in our drinking water – the EPC needs to hear Iowans expect better.

topsoil

Above: sod is placed directly on top of compacted clay, no topsoil

To establish healthy landscapes, improve on-site storm water retention, lessen runoff and soil erosion, and improve water quality – we need to retain four inches of healthy topsoil.  We need every Iowan to submit comments to the Iowa DNR before this Wednesday, April 1.  Tell them you support the existing Four Inch Topsoil requirement because it makes sense for Iowa.

ACTION #1:  Submit your comments to the DNR

Comments may be submitted to the Storm Water Coordinator orally, by fax or by email by April 1, 2015. At the March 6 Administrative Rules Review Committee, the Topsoil Rule was on the agenda. The DNR was only allowed to answer questions and wasn’t requested to make a presentation except to briefly describe the rule. When writing comments to the DNR, it is worthwhile to ask basic questions the DNR can answer, so the information gets published in the public record. Ask those burning questions and offer your opinion on the importance of keeping the existing rule in place.

Storm Water Coordinator
Iowa Department of Natural Resources
502 E. 9th Street
Des Moines, IA 50319
Phone: 515-725-8417
Fax: 515-725-8202
Email: joe.griffin@dnr.iowa.gov

Additional information:
Administrative Rules Review Committee
EPC Notice of Intended Action
Additional background on the issue, including public comments, from the DNR

ACTION #2:  Contact your legislator and members of the Administrative Rules Review Committee

Once the EPC holds hearings and makes their final rule, the rule will advance to the legislature’s Administrative Rules Review Committee.  They will make the final ruling on the rule.  Take the opportunity to contact your legislator – even if she/he is not on the Administrative Rules Review Committee.  Tell your legislator about the impending rule and what you want to see happen – a uniform rule across Iowa requiring developers to leave 4 inches of topsoil on development sites.

Legislative Administrative Rules Review Committee

Senate Members

House Members

Letter to DNR about 4″ topsoil rule

Dear Mr. Griffin:

I intend to appear at today’s public hearing regarding the 4-in topsoil rule, but have commitments at work that will prevent me from appearing before 4 pm. In the meantime, please accept the following as my official comment as a private citizen regarding the proposed rule.

I am writing to support the department’s adoption of the top soil preservation provision as a part of the NPDES General Permit #2 as it relates to construction site management.

As you know, a spirited debate is underway in Iowa about various farm practices that are thought to contribute to declines in water quality, soil conservation, and land stewardship in our state. There are good people doing great work in rural Iowa to address these issues, but there is much yet to do. There have been some unfortunate characterizations made about motives and efforts of some ag interests that detracts from the progress accomplished and the journey yet begun.

That said, it is very unfortunate that opposition to the top soil preservation rule focuses on the costs to one industry, without also considering the benefits to all Iowans that such a rule will provide. It is inequitable on the one hand to demand that farmers undertake conservation measures on their lands to benefit themselves, landowners downstream, and the citizens of Iowa, and, on the other, exempt another industry from this responsibility especially when the results of poor land management are identical. In fact, opponents of this rule will be rewarded for undertaking destructive activities that undo conservation projects already in place on ag lands being converted to urban uses.

This conversion is happening at a rapid pace. According to my research of the USDA Census of Agriculture, over the past 25 years more than 1 million acres of farmland formerly in farms in Iowa are apparently no longer being used for farm uses. Some might argue those acres have flowed down the Mississippi River and are now deposited on the floor of the Caribbean. More likely, these lands have been converted to residential, commercial or public use. Nonetheless, this loss means fewer acres available to feed the world over the coming generations. If the soil remains partially intact under new development, perhaps some of these acres can be reclaimed in the future for ag uses.

It seems to me the first duty of any landowner in Iowa is to preserve our soil. Iowans have been blessed with soils of unbelievable fertility. Our soils are the envy of the world and comprise a limited resource for humanity that must not be squandered, wasted, degraded or discarded. And yet, a proposal to require replacement of just a fraction of the topsoil on a typical Iowa construction site — with all of the benefits such as rule obtains for water retention, fertility for garden and ornamental plants, water quality of runoff — is seen as too heavy handed, too expensive, and too much of a threat to personal liberty as to outweigh the natural and global benefit — and I daresay the moral imperative – of replacing a hand width depth of disturbed soil. This is desecration of the worst sort and will be rightly condemned by future generations.

Your department has proposed a reasonable, if somewhat timid, requirement that is in the best interests of Iowans. I urge your department to adopt the rule as written and explore additional regulatory remedies to ensure that Iowa’s soil is not treated like dirt to be scraped off and sold by the ton.

Sincerely,

John Morrissey

Food Hubs Emerging as Economic Force in Iowa

The first coordinated study of food hub development in Iowa shows that food hubs play a significant role in the state’s local and regional food economy. According to the study, thirteen food hubs purchased $4.5 million in food from more than 450 Iowa farmers and supported 58 jobs. Further, it posits that if the sample businesses were representative of all 31 food hubs and centers of food hub-related activity in the state, Iowa food hubs could be handling more than $10 million of locally grown food in the state!  Read the full report.